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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Red Devils outlast Belgrade to secure Class A Playoff berth

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

With a Robbie Keiser interception on a last gasp play from the home Belgrade Panthers with just seconds to go and a subsequent victory formation kneel down by senior quarterback Cade Dockter, the Dawson County Red Devils exorcised 21 years of demons for the school’s football program to seal a hard-won 28-21 victory and guarantee a spot in the Class A state football playoff for the first time since 1996.

“It’s awesome. I’m just happy for the kids. They worked hard for it and it was a goal of theirs and it was something they wanted to do,” said DCHS head coach Ryan Buckley. “It was good to see and it was nice to be a part of.”

After coming out flat last week and getting manhandled by Custer County, the Red Devils were much sharper on this night, especially on offense, slicing and dicing through the Panthers defense seemingly at will at times both on the ground and through the air.

“We just told the kids after last week that nothing really mattered up until then and we’re down to a two-week season and we’ve just got to practice hard and focus and get better,” Buckley said. “And the kids got down and focused and they played well today.”

The host Panthers actually got out to a quick lead, taking the ball on the ground dow the field from the opening kickoff. The Panthers offense was spurred by junior Easton Page, listed as a wide receiver but really a jack-of-all-trades, often lining up at quarterback to take it himself on the run. Page beat the Devils’ defense for a 27-yard scramble on a third down play from the DCHS 39. A few plays later Page took it in from two yards out on a sweep to stake the Panthers to an early 7-0 lead with the extra point.

The Red Devils immediately struck back, with one of the plays of the game coming on a 52--yard pass play from Dockter to Keiser to put DCHS near the Panther red zone. After getting themselves to first and goal, senior running back Karsen Kelly rumbled up the gut from eight yards out to put the Devils on the board. The extra point try went wide, however, leaving Belgrade in the lead 7-6 with 5:08 left in the first quarter.

After quickly snuffing out the Panthers’ next two drives and missing a 22-yard field goal try, the Devils took their third possession of the first half and made some music. Dockter, who had a huge night on the ground and a good night passing as well, got the drive going from his own 40 with a punishing run on a QB keeper up the middle, refusing to go down and spinning away after it looked like he was stopped to carry it another 15 yards all the way down to the Panthers 37. Then, on a second and nine play from the 19, Dockter put a video game spin move on would-be tacklers to take it down inside the 10. Two plays later, sophomore running back Nelson Crisafulli banged his way through traffic over the right side of the line from one yard out for the touchdown. Dockter converted the two point try with a keeper around the left side to put DCHS up 14-7 with 6:29 to go in the half, a lead they would take into halftime.

Taking the ball to start the second half, the Devils went marching quickly, helped by a nifty 20-yard bubble screen pass from Dockter to senior running back Tyler Clapp to put the ball at the Belgrade 30. Later in the drive, facing fourth and six, Dockter found  senior running back Brandon Held open in the middle of the field and he took it in from about 20 yards out. The snap on the extra point try was bobbled, leaving the Devils with a 20-7 lead.

The Panthers didn’t give up, converting a fourth down to keep their first possession of the second half going and driving deep into DCHS territory. Then facing a third and 10 at the Devils 17, junior quarterback Max Schumacher found sophomore wide receiver Riley Burman open on an inside slant route and Burman took it to paydirt. The extra point was true, tightening the score to 20-14 with 3:04 left in the third quarter.

After both teams punted on their next possessions, DCHS went driving again, pounding it on the ground with Kelly and Dockter and back into Panthers territory. Then facing a third and 14 from the Belgrade 40, Dockter hit senior wide receiver Lane Walker on a beautiful deep post route and Walker cruised it to the house for the score. The two point conversion try was fumbled into the endzone but the Devils fell on it to convert, moving back out to a two score lead with nine minutes left in the game.

DCHS gave the Panthers a gift on Belgrade’s next possession, jumping offsides with the Panthers facing a fourth and two in their own territory and giving them a first down. After junior running back Ethan Major hit a couple of big runs, he rumbled in from 15 yards out to cut the DCHS lead to 28-21 with 6:02 left in the game.

The one big DCHS mistake of the game wouldn’t come back to haunt them, however, as Dockter, Kelly and the offense took the ball and hid it for the next five-and-a-half minutes before finally turning it over on downs deep in Belgrade territory, leaving the Panthers with no real shot.

The Red Devils (4-4) will return home to with a chance to close out the regular season with a winning record against the Fergus County Golden Eagles (4-4, lost 28-12 to Billings Central Friday night).

For just this Friday night, however, the Red Devils could savor the long lost smell of postseason pigskin.

“I’m just really happy and proud for the kids, and I’m just proud to be a part of it,” Buckley said. “A lot of hard work and sacrifice has gone into it from a lot of people, and I’m just proud to see us finally get there.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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