Evart makes dramatic comeback past Pine River 33-27

EVART — Evart coach Pat Craven said he’s never been a part of a comeback in his career like the one his Wildcats enjoyed on Saturday.

Anyone watching Saturday’s 33-27 Wildcat homecoming win over the Pine River Bucks are likely to talk about this Highland Conference game for a long time.

Evart fell behind 27-0 to an upset minded Pine River team that seemed to have everything going its way with the four-touchdown advantage with 5:43 left in third quarter.

But the Wildcats put together a frantic comeback that resulted in 33 unanswered points including 26 in the final quarter. Jacob Fortune passed 12 yards to Jacob Hopkins for a 27-27 tie with 51 seconds left and the same combination worked on the game’s final play from scrimmage, a 34-yard pass, with 0.5 seconds left in regulation for the winning points.

“This has never happened before,” Evart coach Pat Craven said, referring to comebacks this dramatic of teams he’s coached in the past. “It’s a real testament of our coaching staff to continue to coach and pick these kids up, and to them for not giving up on themselves and on each other.”

But it was a tough post-game talk first-year coach Terry Martin had to have with his players.

“I told them that was as tough as any loss I’ve ever been a part of,” Martin said. “I don’t really have any words of wisdom to make it hurt any less. They (Bucks) definitely deserved that win. We had some breakdowns that gave (Evart) some momentum. Hats off, they took advantage of it.”

The Bucks seemed to be well in control after 27-point lead. The Wildcats marched down the field and Drake’s 23-yard run late in the quarter made it a three-touchdown game.

Early in the fourth, a key roughing the passer call on third down kept a Wildcat drive going. Fortune passed to Jared Pattee who lateraled it to Hopkins on the hook-and-ladder for a 33-yard play. That made it 27-14 but Evart, with 6:50 left, had the ball at its own 18. Fortune connected 82 yards with Robert Tapling for a stunning touchdown play and it was 27-21.

The Bucks weren’t able to sustain a drive to eat up the clock.

Evart advanced to the Pine River 19 on its next drive but was stymied on a holding penalty. But a pass interference call on Pine River, that Buck coaches argued to the officials, gave the Wildcats new life. Fortune connected with Hopkins with 51 seconds left but the PAT attempt was no good.

Overtime seemed possible, especially after a Pine River punt and Evart, aided on a penalty, got the ball at the Bucks’ 34 with 7.8 seconds to play. The Fortune to Hopkins combination, on the first play of the drive, worked again for a touchdown with 0.5 seconds left on the clock. Pine River was stopped on the kickoff return.

“We saw some things on film we thought we could exploit,” Craven said of the last fourth quarter touchdowns. “We just didn’t have an opportunity to do it. It’s 27-0 so what are you waiting for? We knew we had to score quickly and we couldn’t drive down the length of the field anymore on the ground. We went for things we saw.”

Evart was stymied by key penalties and three pass interceptions while Pine River built its lead. Nelson passed 28 yards to Brandon Fulks for one touchdown early in the second and later connected to Brandon Hoaglund for six.

Tyler McCurry blocked an Evart punt early in the third and Jeffrey Gross scampered five yards on the next play for the 21-0 lead. Hoaglund intercepted a Fortune pass to set up a 26-yard touchdown run by Gross on fourth down for a 27-0 lead.

“It was effort, the way we were running the ball,” Martin said. “We were running hard, we were running over people. People were staying on blocks and doing all the little things right that we’ve been looking for.”

“We need to prepare better,” Craven said. “We have a team of tremendous athletes, but we sometimes struggled in seeing the big picture in preparation. We did not have a good week of practice. Pine River played 3  1/2 quarters of mistake free football and they put it to us. I never thought the game was over. I thought we could score points. We’ve done it all year. We scored points in a hurry. We needed to execute better which we did there at the end.”

Evart had 184 yards rushing and 208 passing. Fortune had 11 completions. Drake ran for 82 yards.

“These kids are tremendous athletes and tremendous football players,” Craven said. “They need to begin to believe in themselves a little more and understand what they’re capable of doing.”

Pine River netted 148 yards rushing, led by Parks with 113 yards, and had 110 yards passing from Nelson.

Both teams had various issues with the officials on penalties. Evart was penalized for 125 yards and Pine River for 75.

The Bucks dressed 17 players and fatigue may have been a factor toward the end, Martin acknowledged.

“That’s part of it, we have some with only a couple of plays being off the field,” Martin said. “That’s kind of the way football is in the Highland Conference right now. I definitely don’t take any part of this being a result of that. Our kids are in great shape. Mentally they hung in there.”

Evart, 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the Highland, is at McBain Friday night. Pine River, 1-4 and 0-3, is home against Manton on Friday.