Pine River holds back Manton for 27-21 Highland Conference win

LEROY – The best way to come back from a disappointing loss in high school football one week is with a big victory the next.

That’s what the Pine River Bucks did Friday night in a 27-21 victory in Highland Conference action over the Manton Rangers on homecoming.

Mitchell McDonald ran for 111 yards and scored two touchdowns and Brandon Fulks gained 105 yards and also accounted for two scores for the Bucks, who netted 283 yards on the ground, while getting 149 in the air from six Skyler Nelson pass

completions.

The Bucks were coming off a disappointing 33-27 loss to Evart last week. Pine River had a 27-0 lead over the Wildcats in the third quarter but allowed 33 unanswered points.

Friday’s win over Manton was rewarding, but wasn’t easy.

“Just the way we responded at the end of the game (Friday) was huge,” Bucks coach Terry Martin said.  “After what happened last week and to be in a tight spot with a bit of little time left, it would have been easy to revert to ‘here we go again.’ But they kind of did the opposite. They dug in and had some huge defensive stands to win the game at the end.”

“It feels great,” said Pine River running back and defensive lineman Jeffery Gross. “We’re really happy. We had some mistakes and have room for improvement. We’ll have to step it up next week.”

Leading 14-7 at halftime, the Bucks were driving deep into Manton territory to open the second half but fumbled the ball in the end zone. Manton drove into Pine River territory but Brandon Hoaglund’s interception got the ball back for the hosts.

Nelson passed 45 yards to Fulks for a touchdown but an illegal motion penalty canceled the play.

Manton took over in Pine River territory and drove down the field, scoring on quarterback Brock Clough’s 3-yard keeper. Kyle Nixon blocked the extra point try to keep Pine River ahead 14-13.

Pine River went up 21-13 early in the fourth on a 41-yard play. Nelson ran three yards and pitched the ball back to McDonald who ran 38 yards to the end zone. It was perfect execution of the new option offense.

“They’re definitely starting to feel more comfortable with it,” Martin said. “That’s one of those things that comes with repetitions. A first-year option offense should be getting to that point. It’s a good thing to see.”

But on the kickoff, Luke Shepler scampered 80 yards for the touchdown and Austin Fagerman ran for the two points and a 21-21 tie.

The Bucks drove right back down the field and Nelson passed 35 yards to McDonald for six points an 27-21 advantage. The Bucks, wary of Shepler’s return skills, went for the onside kick and recovered it

Pine River drove down the field and executed a key fourth down play to have the ball on Manton’s 4. But a bad pitch on the next play gave Manton the ball at its 15 and new life. Manton then marched down the field on some big plays to the Bucks 15 but got pushed back on a penalty.

Hoaglund knocked down a pass in the end zone on fourth down.

Manton got the ball back at its 37 with 27 seconds to play but couldn’t score.

“We like to make them exciting on homecoming night, I guess,” Martin smiled. “We moved the ball really well but had some mistakes like penalties and turnovers that stopped us. I think our offense functioned very well outside of a couple of mistakes.”

The Bucks struck first late in the first quarter on Brandon Fulks’ 57-yard touchdown run for a 6-0 lead.

Manton struck back midway in the second quarter on a drive fueled by a couple of key Pine River penalties. Tristin Rosted scored on a 5-yard run and the PAT made it 7-6, Rangers.

On the next drive. Nelson connected 45 yards on a pass to Fulks and Mitchell McDonald ran for the two points and 14-7 lead.

Both teams are 2-5 overall and 1-4 in the league.

“I told (his players) they’re making me old quick,” Martin joked. “I told them this was a real gutsy win after what we went through last week. To come back and to answer like this in a close game was a big victory.”

Manton had 189 yards rushing, led by Rostead with 146 yards. Clough passed for 103 yards.

Pine River plays at Marion on Friday.