Indians make key plays to pull away in second half

On an overcast evening with a few rain showers in Osage Beach, Brockton McLaughlin saw some daylight.

A 46-yard run to the house after reversing field, a 67-yard yard scamper to the end zone and a 16-yard touchdown throw were just some of the plays the junior quarterback from Osage made to help his team top Eldon 41-26 Friday night in the annual rivalry showdown with the Mustangs and Tri-County Conference opener for both teams.

“I feel like it definitely gives me an extra gear,” McLaughlin said of having some space to run. “Every time I see open field I just try and kick it and run my fastest.”

Well, good thing he found that gear and the entire team found its groove, too, because Eldon was the team with the momentum at halftime with a 14-13 lead. After cleaning up a few first half mistakes, the Indians were able to turn things around.  

“We just kind of shot ourselves in the foot in the first half. We knew that if we could come out and play a little cleaner we would have a good opportunity to put up some points in the second which fortunately, we were,” Osage coach Devin Johnson said. “Defensively, we got put in a couple of bad situations in the first half… We gave them a lot of momentum going into halftime, we gave them some energy and I thought our kids did a great job of putting a stop to that in the second half.”

Osage’s first two possessions of the night actually resulted in turnovers. Sophomore receiver Hunter Graber coughed up the ball on a reception at Eldon’s 17-yard line as he was being tackled and junior Keigan Vaughn fumbled the ball on a punt return. However, the Indians struck first and scored the first touchdown of the night on a 30-yard run from senior running back Kenan Webb on the final play of the first quarter to go up 7-0. 

And that was just the beginning of a few haymakers the two rivals traded the rest of the first half. 

Unable to capitalize on Osage’s two turnovers, Eldon did not take long to respond as the Mustangs scored on the ensuing drive with a 31-yard run from junior running back Mason Kirkweg. The junior was just getting started, too, with two more touchdown runs and a total of 163 rushing yards on 18 carries to add on the night. 

With 5:12 left in the first half, senior running back Jack Creasy put the Indians back on top with a 14-yard touchdown dash to make it 13-7 after a missed extra point. But once again, Eldon came right back on the next possession and claimed the lead as junior Ian Birdno returned the ensuing kickoff to Osage’s 27-yard line and Kirkweg finished the drive on an 8-yard touchdown run with 30.5 seconds remaining until the break.  

After a tough 47-0 shutout loss on the road at Owensville last week, Eldon coach Chad Hult was pleased to see how his team responded.

“Our kids came out a little flat last week and they picked up the intensity and that showed,” the coach noted. 

“The rivalry always adds to that some, but at the same time I think they were a little embarrassed by their performance last week. We got a lot of pride in our kids and they take a lot of pride in our team. So, they came out and fought and knew they had to give more effort than what they gave.”

The momentum was certainly with Eldon, but it soon shifted back to the team in maroon and white. 

On the opening drive of the second half, facing a 3rd-and-9, McLaughlin began to scramble to the right before he reversed field and took off to the left for a 46-yard touchdown run to give his team the lead for good. He also ran in the 2-point conversion to put the Indians up 21-14. 

Eldon had another answer on the next drive as Kirkweg made a punishing run, breaking a few tackles, on his way to the end zone for a third time on a 46-yard run. The ensuing extra point was blocked, though, as Osage narrowly preserved a 21-20 lead. Then the Indians made sure they did not have too much to worry about the rest of the evening as they scored 20 unanswered points in the third quarter. 

Facing a 4th-and-goal on Eldon’s 1-yard line on the next drive, senior running back Mason Clarke lined up behind the big guys and pummeled his way into the end zone. Eldon went three-and-out on the ensuing drive and a high snap on the punt put Osage on Eldon’s 16-yard line. The Indians scored on the first play with a 16-yard strike from McLaughlin to Graber. Osage’s final touchdown came on a 67-yard run from McLaughlin. 

And the best part may be that the quarterback did it just a couple of plays after he made a 62-yard touchdown run that was called back due to holding. McLaughlin finished with a team-leading 203 rushing yards on 13 carries and completed three of his six passes for 32 yards.

“Brock ran the ball really well tonight and threw the ball pretty well. He is efficient and honestly, probably tries to do too much at times,” Johnson said of his signal caller. “He is kind of fun to watch and he is shifty in the open field. Sometimes in my head I’m saying, ‘Just go down, just go down, just go down and protect yourself,’ and all of a sudden he scores or runs all the way back across the field and makes something happen.”

Osage’s 20 unanswered points came in a tough 8-minute stretch for Eldon and for the Mustangs it simply came down to running out of some steam or penalties that eventually added up. On seven of Eldon’s drives, the Mustangs faced a down of 10-plus yards to the first down marker.

“We had quite a few penalties that were all self-inflicted and any time you do that it hurts,” Hult said. “We like to run the ball so we were behind on the sticks and it comes back to play.”

Osage’s defensive adjustments at halftime did not help, either, as Johnson noted the interior defensive line slanted a little more after the team reviewed some film. The Indians were also able to get their linebackers to the right windows at the point of attack. Sophomore linebacker Eric Hood finished with 16 tackles while both sophomore Konner Vaughn and junior Shane Thomas added 10 each.

The coach was still impressed with the efforts the rivals put on display. 

“I thought Eldon played really hard and pretty well, a pretty good game. That quarterback (Hunter Hees) is a pretty good player,” Johnson stated after the quarterback went 5-14 for 28 yards and rushed for another 54 yards on 14 carries. “He is a good athlete and is going to be tough the next three years. We were fortunate to have more depth, I think, on each side of the ball and we stayed a little fresher in the second half. They just did not quite have the horses to keep up.  

“I would not put any shame on them, they played very well the entire game.” 

Eldon was able to scratch and claw for one final touchdown drive to close out the night, converting a trio of fourth down plays before the young freshman Hees took a hit at the goal line and put the ball across the plane on 4th-and-goal at the 3-yard line. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, all that work ate up some clock as the drive took over nine minutes to complete.

“At that point we were just trying to make sure we scored on that drive and took care of business how we had to,” Hult said. “Our kids converted a lot of fourth downs on that drive, which says a lot for those guys. We were kind of out of steam there so for those guys to keep pushing through and get more points on the board, I was really proud of them.” 

Eldon senior running back Owen Levesque added 30 rushing yards on 10 carries and the Mustangs finished with 247 rushing yards overall. Junior receiver Baylor Pearson hauled in four catches for 19 yards and Birdno also had a 9-yard catch.

Eldon (1-2, 0-1 TCC) hosts Hallsville Friday night at 7 p.m.  

“Every week in this conference it does not get any easier. But, we just have to make sure all of our guys who played tonight are healthy and we got a few more coming back next week, which should help with our depth a little bit,” Hult stated. “The guys just have to understand, and I told them, we played extremely hard but we have to raise the workload we can do.” 

Meanwhile, the Indians finished with 424 rushing yards on the night as Creasy galloped for 111 yards and Webb dashed for 106 while adding a 4-yard catch. Graber had two catches for 28 yards as well. 

Osage (2-1, 1-0 TCC) will be on the road at California Friday night for another kickoff at 7 p.m. After a rough outing at Moberly last week, Johnson said he was glad for his team to get that out of the way early in the year because it was an opportunity to learn and grow from it. Now, the Indians will try to hold on to some of that regained momentum.  

“Any win in this conference is big. We got California next week and California is much improved,” Johnson pointed out. “They are going to be a lot better football team and Coach (Derek) Scroggins has done a very good job with them. I’ve been impressed watching them on film. They have a very mobile quarterback and some good athletes. They’ve been tough the first two weeks and this conference, every Friday night is a tough night.”