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Ione’s Evan Reitmann almost gets an interception only to have Garrett Merten of St. Paul knock the ball away before Reitmann could get possession Saturday for the East team. (BRAD MOSHER/The Observer)
Turnovers, big plays prove to be key in West pulling out a 24-20 win in final minutes
The West All-Stars came from behind in the final minutes to win a dramatic 24-20 decision Saturday in Oregon’s 24th annual 8-man East-West All-Star football game.
Crow’s Brayden Anderson put the West team ahead for the first time in the game when he dove in from the 4-yard line with just two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
But the game still wasn’t over as the East still had nearly two minutes left to pull out a game they had led since the first quarter.
The West had to hold off a last-minute drive by the East team which got within 21 yards of the end zone at Eastern Oregon University’s Community Stadium as time ran out.
The West victory evened the record between the two squads at 12 wins each.
It was the East squad which got off to a fast start, when quarterback Riley Brown of Sherman County connected with Echo’s Connor Bettancourt for a 17-yard touchdown with 5:22 left in the first quarter. Brown hit Imbler’s Casey Robertson for the two-point conversion, giving the East squad an 8-0 lead.
The second East touchdown came after Bettencourt intercepted an Anderson pass and ran it back to the West 41-yard line.
On the first play, Brown hit Wallowa’s Wes Conrad with a 41-yard scoring pass with 4:26 left. The conversion failed, leaving the East with a 14-0 lead after scoring twice in less than a minute.
Eli Wolfe got the West offense rolling on the next possession. The 1A Oregon player of the year took the handoff from Crow’s Anderson and peeled off a big 30-yard run to the East 35-yard line.
West starts scoring
Wolfe took the next play and picked up another 10 yards. St. Paul’s burly running back, Cole Weisz, moved the ball to the 18-yard line and a personal foul call against the East defense gave the West team first-and-goal at the seven.
Wolfe finished off the drive, diving into the end zone with 2:41 left in the first quarter. The score stayed at 14-6 after Cove’s Brandon Batty intercepted the conversion pass in the end zone.
The East drove downfield in the final minutes of the quarter. Robertson caught the ball at the two in the first minute of the second quarter. But back-to back-penalties backed the East to the 19.
Brown hit Conrad with a pass at the one-yard line. The East pair connected again on the next play with Conrad getting a 1-yard touchdown reception in spite of a pass interference call against West defender Branden Bowen of Elkton.
The East’s lead stayed at 20-6 when a trick play failed on the conversion attempt.
Those would be the last points the East would score in the game -— but not the last time the team would threaten to score.
Wolfe scores again
The West came right back, with West receiver Cole Merten of St. Paul picking up 26 yards on the first play. Merten’s cousin, Garrett, picked up 30 yards on the next pass play, putting the West on the East 20 yard line. Runs by Wolfe and Weisz moved the ball down to the eight.
Wolfe caught a scoring pass on the next play, cutting the East lead to 20-12 with 8:49 left in the half. The conversion run failed.
After the kickoff, Adrian’s Kurtis Neilson reversed his direction on the first play for a big 13-yard gain for a first down, but the drive stalled when Robertson caught a fourth-and six pass down at the 22-yard line, but was ruled out of bounds on the play.
West penalty costly
Bowen took the ball down the right sideline for a 54-yard score on the first play, only to have the play wiped out by a holding penalty.
The West moved the ball back to midfield before Anderson connected with Garrett Merten on a 51-yard scoring pass that was almost intercepted by two East defenders with 5:22 left in the half.
The conversion failed, leaving the East with a two-point lead, 20-18.
After all the scoring in the first half, the third quarter was silent, with neither squad getting in the end zone.
It wasn’t until the final minutes that one of the teams scored.
Turnovers doom East
The spark came when Garrett Merten stepped in front of Robertson to intercept a pass and return it more than 20 yards to the East’s 37-yard line.
A bad snap on a fourth-down play, pushed the ball out to the East’s 34-yard line where they took possession.
On the first play, Brown hurried a throw as he was being tackled by Bowen, but it was Wolfe who intercepted the pass in the East backfield with 6:36 left in the game.
That proved to be a crucial error, giving the West team another chance to score from deep in the East territory
The West faced a third-and-18, but two complete passes to Cody Merten and Wolfe gave the West a crucial first down at the 22-yard line.
Two straight Wolfe runs and a pass interference call in the end zone gave the West a first down on the 4.
Anderson’s quarterback keeper gave the West the lead for the first time.
The East scrambled to come back, with Adrian quarterback Paxton Shira connecting with Conrad down to the West 31-yard line with 1:44 left in the game.
The East moved the ball to the 21-yard line before the drive stalled.
St. Paul’s Parker Schibel came up with a crucial sack of Shira in the final 10 seconds as time ran out for the East before they could get another play off.
But even West coach Eli Wolfe admitted he was worried as the East team moved downfield in the final minute. “That sack by Parker was great,” the Camas Valley coach said.
“It really made a difference.”
After watching his son win the player of the year award for the 1A division this year, Wolfe also got a chance to watch his son win the game’s most valuable player award. “He played a great game. He definitely leaves it all on the field,” the coach said.
The coach said Garrett Merten’s fourth-quarter interception really helped to spark the West team.
“It was huge. It was a turning point. Merten came up with some big plays at some crucial moments.”
Wolfe also praised Merten’s cousin, Cody. “He came up with a huge play as well. There were some huge plays those kids came up with at crucial times.”
According to the younger Wolfe, it was his teammate Weisz of St. Paul that was responsible for his most valuable player award.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get that yardage without Cole opening up holes for me,” Wolfe said, while holding his MVP plaque in his hands after the game.
“It was a lot of fun. There was a lot of hard hitting,” said Dayville’s Jake Buce. Buce picked up two awards after the game — best defensive player and most inspirational — on the East squad. “I got in a few hard hits,” Buce said. “I was expecting a big offensive game, but the defense had to show up.”
According to the game’s organizer, Chuck Steeves, the 2013 game was excellent for both the players and fans. “It was a great game for everybody.
“We had everything you look for in a football game — big plays and sustained drives.”
One of East quarterback Riley Brown’s favorite targets early in the game was Conrad, Robb’s stepson.
“He really likes to play receiver,” East coach Bill Robb said. Conrad finished with two touchdown receptions.
“Everybody had a great time. Although we lost, it was a close game,” Robb said.