Camdenton, Mo. – Leading 25-22 with five minutes left in the game, the Lakers had their fans on the edge of their seats. A win was within reach, but the crowd went deathly silent after the Lakers fumbled the ball at their own 14-yard line.
The Laker fans in Bob Shore Stadium on Wednesday night let out an audible sigh of relief as Camdenton recovered their own fumble, narrowly avoiding disaster.
The fans' worries were quickly taken away and their nerves calmed as QB Bo Dean drew back for a pass, firing across to Ryan Elliott, who took it 86 yards down the field to score and put the Lakers up 32-22 on the next play.
"Usually after a turnover, it's a good time to try and hit them with something big," Coach Jeff Shore said after the game. "We felt like it was time to take a shot, and fortunately it worked out."
Just like that, the Lakers escaped what could have been the end of their season, and instead, survive to fight for the district championship on their home turf against a longtime rival, the Waynesville Tigers.
The Camdenton squad looked a little out of form in their Wednesday night victory over Smith-Cotton, as their first drive was cut short by a fumble on a catch by Ryan Elliott after the run game was halted on the first two plays.
That fumble set up Smith-Cotton in Laker territory, but with the help of their fans, the Purple Haze made a stand, forcing the Tigers to attempt a field goal that fell short and wide in the end zone.
The Lakers took over their own 20-yard line, and on the next play, Dean found Kullen Carlock for a 12-yard gain. Tacking on five yards for a face-mask penalty, Dean then rushed for 28 yards to put the Lakers at Smith-Cotton's 35-yard line before pushing down to the 25.
From there, however, the Lakers' inability to keep the drive going ended with a turnover on downs as the Lakers took a shot at the end-zone on 4th and 9 at the 24, with the ball falling just inches away from the outstretched hands of Carlock.
Smith-Cotton proved unable to build a rhythm, as the first quarter ended with Camdenton's Josh Martin sacking the Tiger QB, forcing Smith-Cotton to punt to start the second half.
But the Lakers wouldn't get far, as their next play resulted in another fumble, which the Tigers pounced on, taking over at the 18-yard line. After a pass defended by Camdenton's Jordan Webster, the Tigers ran a sweep to the right for an 8-yard gain, followed by a rush up the middle for the first down, which led to an 8-yard run by Smith-Cotton's Jacob Weeks for the first score of the game.
Trailing 7-0 with 9:34 left in the half, Camdenton took over at the 35 yard line. Dean promptly threw the ball to Carlock on 1st down, gaining 14 yards and reaching midfield.
Matt Endsley carried the ball next for a gain of 11 yards, followed by Dean for 7 yards as the Lakers finally found their momentum. The Camdenton offense continued to string together short plays before Endsley punched in for a score on second and goal. With Mason Bennett's extra point, the Lakers tied the game at 7 with 5:28 left in the first half.
Camdenton's luck had changed, and it continued as they were able to recover a Tiger fumble on Smith-Cotton's 30 yard line. Endsley carried the team down to the 10-yard line, and Josh Martin carried Smith-Cotton's defenders along with him as he crossed the goal line to put the Lakers up 13-7 before the half.
Camdenton took possession of the ball once more before the half, but the clock ran out before they could spike the ball and take a shot at the end-zone.
The second half began with Smith-Cotton receiving the kickoff, but the Purple Haze didn't take much time to force the punt, which the Tigers downed at the 5-yard line.
Camdenton was able to battle back and leave their own end-zone, eventually working out to midfield, where Dean hit Carlock with a bullet, who raced down the field after breaking a tackle to score on a 50-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
Smith-Cotton would answer minutes later, driving down field on six run plays to score, trailing 19-14.
After another big play by Carlock, this time on the ground, the Lakers found themselves in scoring position after Dean rushed the ball down to the 1-yard line and was forced out. On the next play, Dean punched it in with the QB keeper to put Camdenton up 25-14.
Smith-Cotton added on one more score to pull within three, and that's when Camdenton's lucky streak kicked in, resulting in the 86 yard touchdown reception by Ryan Elliott.
Camdenton's defense managed to hold Smith-Cotton, and the Lakers ran out the clock, securing their spot in the district championship with a 32-22 win.
"I'm proud of us for handling adversity," Coach Shore said. "They did what we expected them to do, we just had a hard time stopping them. They're a good team and played hard physically, and they were on a roll. I"m proud of the boys for sticking with it. The playoffs are going to be hard, no matter what. I told the kids at half time that you can't be uptight, and you have to go out and play to win, and whatever happens, happens. And we did that."
Dean finished the game 17 for 25 for 251 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and also led the Lakers with 68 rushing yards on 11 carries. Ryan Elliott led Camdenton in receiving with 123 yards and a TD, followed by Carlock with five receptions for 80 yards and a TD.
The Laker defense allowed 333 yards to Smith-Cotton on 64 plays, while Camdenton finished with a total of 435 yards on 57 plays.
Camdenton now awaits Monday night, as the Lakers welcome the "W" word to Bob Shore Stadium, where Varon Martinez and the Waynesville Tigers will look to upset the number one seeded 9-1 Camdenton Lakers. Game time is set for 7 p.m.