Pine River celebrates district title with dramatic win over Meridian

MERIDIAN — Make that two district football champions from Osecola County.

Pine River joined its neighbors from the south, Reed City, as district kings for the first time with a 34-27 triumph over Sanford Meridian Friday night in the Division 6 district title game.

Bucks quarterback Mason Powell connected 50 yards with Greg Park for the winning touchdown pass to break a 27-27 tie with 58 seconds to play.

“Once again, just an absolutely exciting game,” Pine River coach Terry Martin said. ‘I couldn’t be more proud of these kids and what they’ve been able to manage to do the last two years. I can’t put it into words.”

On the second play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Powell found a wide open Park over the middle for the easy six and Park kicked the extra point.

The Mustangs were unable to move the ball on their last chance.

“We’ve been running a screen so we called a 981,” Powell said on the touchdown pass. “We were thinking they would jump the screen. They did exactly what we thought. Greg ran a perfect route.”

“It’s my first one all year and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” Park said. “The safety bit and I was wide open. I had to turn the wheels on and get the yards after the catch.”

The Mustangs had tied the game with 1:20 seconds to play when, on fourth down, Christian Petre passed 5 yards to Stryker O’Boyle for the touchdown. But on the PAT try, kicker Adam Slavik tried a run on the fake and was stopped short to keep the game tied.

Pine River, 8-3, plays at Boyne City in the regional Friday night. Meridian’s season ends at 8-3.

Powell had passed to Fulks for a pair of 20-yard touchdown passes  and Fulks ran 30 yards with 17 seconds left in the second quarter to give Pine River a 21-13 halftime lead.

Meridian had a 10-yard scoring run by Louis Korpal in the first quarter. He also ran it in from a yard out in the second, but the kick failed.

The hosts drove the ball 65 yards for a touchdown to open the second half with Christian Petre scoring on a 50-yard run on a drive that took 6:14 off the clock. The Mustangs also got the two points to tie the game.

Pine River took a 27-21 lead on Jeff Gross’ 5-yard run with 2:26 left in the third. The PAT failed.

The winning touchdown play, “has been in our playbook all year long,” Martin said. “It gives us the option to throw the little bubble underneath to Brandon Fulks, which is usually a pretty good option. After we had scored two touchdowns on that in the first half, we noticed on the last one they were really starting to (come up) on him.

“At halftime, I talked to Mason about switching up and said the next time we’d call blue 981 which baits them with the bubble screen we scored on, but we would also run a deep post route right behind the safety. I told them the next time we called that, I wanted him to read  the safety and see if they would bite on that screen pass. We didn’t get many opportunities in the second half to call anything since they had the ball so much. When we called it, the safety took enough steps forward, Greg Park got behind him and Mason put a great ball on him in stride, and he turned it up the field.”

Pine River had 145 rushing yards with Fulks totaling 109 yards. Mitchell McDonald had some big plays including a 50-yard kickoff return and a 65-yard interception return. Powell passed for 90 yards.

“It feels amazing,” he smiled. Powell completed three passes for 90 yards.

The Bucks had 85 yards in penalties including one that nullified a touchdown. Sanford Meridian had 180 yards rushing, led by Korpal with 130 yards.

“We had to stop their run,” Park said. “We knew they were a tough team. We really had to stop them on defense and keep our offense going.”

Petre passed for 29 yards.

“Our kids hung in there and despite the penalties and everything else they got it done,” Martin said. “That was special.”

Individual leaders

Rushing—Pine River 31-145 (Mitch McDonald 7-25, Fulks 12-109, Powell 12-(-2), Gross 3-11. Passing—Pine River (Powell 3-7-0-90).