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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jamie Ausk Crisafulli photo

Red Devils upset Laurel, advance in playoffs

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Dawson County Red Devils traveled to Laurel Saturday night for the school’s first football playoff game in 21 years and the visitors made the most of their opportunity, shocking the host Locomotives in front of their home fans to come away with a 28-20 upset victory and notch the Red Devils’ first playoff win in 22 years.

Elated after the victory, DCHS head coach Ryan Buckley also noted that it was the first time DCHS has beaten Laurel — a perennial Class A powerhouse — since 2005.

“It was cool. It was pretty awesome. I’m just excited for our kids and our coaches,” Buckley said.

After struggling in their last regular season game to get much of anything going on offense, the Red Devils hit the field in Laurel Saturday night like a team on a mission, moving the ball on the Laurel defense seemingly at will at times, racking up huge yardage numbers on the ground with an efficient, hard-hitting running game with some nice passing plays sprinkled in along the way.

Buckley said his team’s ability to move the ball so effectively against the Locomotives began up front, praising his offensive line for their performance.

“I think up front our kids played well,” Buckley said. “Those five kids up front, they really got into Laurel’s kids and played hard right up to the whistle and as the game went on, we wore them out.”

At the start, it looked like the Locomotives might be ready to roll over DCHS as they have every other time for the past 12 years. Laurel took the opening kickoff and quickly marched down the field. The drive was capped off by an 8-yard touchdown scamper by junior Laurel quarterback Gage Hull. A good extra point staked the host team to an early 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.

After that, however, aside from one big pass play for a touchdown surrendered late in the second quarter, the DCHS defense largely kept the Locomotives offense off-track. Buckley said his team just needed to shake off some early nerves and get settled into the game.

“I think our kids just kind of settled down,” he said. “I think it was just a combination of us getting our feet underneath us and focusing on our assignments and our reads, and once our kids did that, they played very well defensively.”

The Red Devils offense answered Laurel’s score on their second possession of the game early in the second quarter, largely pounding the ball on the ground with a combination of running by senior running back Karsen Kelly and senior quarterback Cade Dockter. The drive was capped off with a 14-yard touchdown run up the right side on a third and one play by sophomore running back Nelson Crisafulli. Johnathan Egan’s extra point try was good, tying the game at 7-7 with 9:22 left in the second quarter.

The DCHS defense quickly handed the ball back to the offense with outstanding field position. On the second play of Laurel’s next drive, the Red Devils defensive front got after Hull, hitting him as he attempted to throw. The errant pass was snatched out the air by senior linebacker Tyler Clapp, who returned it up to the Laurel 35.

For a moment in the Red Devils ensuing drive, it looked like the scoring opportunity might be squandered after a holding penalty pushed them back. But then Dockter found senior wide receiver Robbie Keiser on a nice pass play to put the Devils back ahead of chains and set them up with a first and goal from the 10. Two plays later, Crisafulli plunged in again from two yards out. The extra point try was good to move DCHS out to a 14-7 lead with 5:49 left in the second quarter.

The next Laurel possession saw the last real flash from their offense on the night. The Locomotives were set up right at midfield following a nice return on the kickoff. The DCHS defense initially held, but facing third down and 12, Hull pitched up a bomb to senior wide receiver Deklan Harper, who streaked past the coverage for a 52-yard touchdown pass. The extra point try went wide right, however, leaving DCHS with a 14-13 lead with just over four minutes left in the half.

DCHS wasn’t done scoring in the first half, taking the ball downfield on their next possession on a great offensive drive that effectively combined run and pass. The Devils started the drive way back at their 15, but a 29-yard pass play to Keiser helped move them out close to midfield. Later in the drive, facing third and six from the Laurel 20, Dockter rolled out to his left away from pressure and found Keiser sitting wide open in the back of the endzone for the touchdown with just about 30 seconds left in the half. Egan’s extra point try was true, sending DCHS into halftime with a 21-13 lead.

The Red Devils padded their lead on the opening possession of the second half, in a 15-play, nearly seven minute drive that was a microcosm of the team’s offensive efficiency on the night. Dockter capped off the long drive with a touchdown run from seven yards out to push the lead out to 28-13 with just over five minutes left in the third.

DCHS wouldn’t score again, but they wouldn’t have to, as the defense forced Laurel to turn the ball over on downs on each of the Locomotives’ next three possessions. Laurel did add a late, garbage time touchdown with less than 20 seconds to go in the game following a blocked DCHS punt which set them up near the red zone. The ensuing onside kick attempt was scooped up by Docker to out an end to the affair.

“It was good. It was fun,” Buckley said of getting the big playoff win.

Now the Red Devils will make the extremely long trip across the state to face the Hamilton Broncs (8-1), the No. 1 seed out of the Southwest League. Buckley said Hamilton is “awful good,” noting that their offense put up more than 40 points in seven out of their nine regular season games.

“They’re athletic and they have some size,” Buckley said of the Broncs, further noting that Hamilton’s quarterback, who is just a sophomore, “has had a nice year.”

“We’ll have our hands full on both sides (of the ball),” Buckley concluded about Hamilton.

That being said, the coach said he would have his team ready to go this Saturday at 1 p.m., adding he feels that the tough fights and competition the Red Devils have faced all year in the Eastern A Conference will have helped prepare them for their date with Hamilton.

“I think that’s helpful to us in the long run,” Buckley said of competing in the Eastern A Conference. “We’ve seen a lot of good teams.”


Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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