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River outlasts Waterford to move on in D-VII

HANNIBAL — Mike Flannery has 105 career coaching victories in his 18 seasons of roaming the sidelines. However, none have been quite as ugly as his latest.

With a defense that bent and bent and bent but never broke, River used one big play on offense in edging past visiting Waterford, 7-6, Friday night at chill-filled Martin Flannery Field in a Division VII, Region 27 second round playoff encounter.

“I’ve had some ugly wins … and that was an ugly win,” the veteran head coach allowed outside a joyous River lockerroom. “Our defense kept bending but never broke and on offense we made a big play when we needed, but we just weren’t gelling for some reason. I don’t know what it was … ?”

With the hard-earned victory, the third-seeded Pilots (5-2) navigated their way into the regional quarterfinals opposite 11th-seeded Reedsville Eastern (5-2) which upset No. 6 Caldwell, 26-14, on Friday night in Noble County. That contest will be played again on the artificial surface in Hannibal next Friday at 7 p.m. The victor moves on to the regional semifinals against the Shadyside-East Knox survivor.

The Wildcats (4-4) had scored 211 points in their four triumphs this season but couldn’t solve the Pilots’ tenacious defense that allowed 252 yards of total offense on the night. But when the hosts needed a big stop, they got it.

Holding onto a slim 7-6 advantage with just over a minute left to play and Waterford threatening at the River 38, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against the Washington Countians set them back to their own 47. On the very next play, sophomore defensive end Ty Long beat the Wildcats left tackle and blind-sided quarterback Grant McCutcheon, jarring the ball loose where senior defensive tackle Nate Bowers pounced on it for a well-deserved birthday present.

“(Assistant) Coach (Eric) James said before the game that all the offense needed to do was score once. He didn’t say that we needed to score once and then kick the extra point,” Flannery noted with a slight smile. “That’s what an extra point does for you.”

He was referring to Zac Hocutt’s all-important PAT following a 78-yard scoring strike from Brody Lollathin to Michael Johnson on the Pilots second play of the second quarter. After Carter Dennis lost four yards on first down, Lollathin threw a strike to Johnson in the right flat. The elusive Johnson made one Wildcat miss and then outran everyone else to the end zone. Hocutt was perfect for a 7-0 advantage with 10:16 left before the half.

The score remained that way until late in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats finally reached the promised land.

Faced with a third-and-goal from the River 7, McCutcheon rolled to his left, and despite heavy pressure, he was able to lob the ball into the end zone when tight end Jude Huffman went high into the air to snag just inside the end line. With 5:27 showing, the Wildcats gambled and went for the win. However, the two-point pass was no good.

“How close were they to getting the extra point?” Flannery asked. “But our kids have proven time and time again, despite adversity, and we had adversity because we’d try this and they’d stop us. We’d try this and they’d stop us.”

Flannery was pleased with how his team responded when it had to.

“We had guys play their hearts out tonight. We’ve got eight guys playing both ways,” he stressed. “This will be a good game to look at on film and learn from. We’ll look at it and learn a lot from it because Waterford played tough against Trimble, No. 1 in our region, and against Fort Frye.”

Dennis led River with 62 tough yards on 17 carries. Lollathin was 5-for-16 for 99 yards and the touchdown. He was also picked twice. Johnson had two catches for 85 stripes.

Waterford’s Holden Dailey gained 160 yards on 26 carries.

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