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PREP FOOTBALL: Clare battles back to lock up playoff berth

Pioneers clinch share of JPC title

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With a win against the visiting Roscommon Bucks the Clare Pioneers hoped to lock down a couple of things Friday night.

First off the Pioneers wanted to lock up a playoff berth for an eighth straight season.

Secondly they wanted to clinch a share of a seventh straight Jack Pine Conference title.

Check one.

Check two.

Clare battled back from being down early en route to a 43-28 victory Friday from the Brookwood Athletic Complex.

Senior running back Jordan Gross had a career night with four touchdowns and 231 yards rushing on 31 carries.

On the initial possession, head coach Kelly Luplow opted to go for it and put the ball in the hands of senior quarterback Colton Punches on a 4th-and-5 from the Roscommon 45 yard line.

As Punches crossed the first down marker the ball popped out and Roscommon recorded the first of three turnovers in the first half.

“We had turnovers in the first half and that’s just the way our season has been in the first half. We were able to be a little more mistake free in the second half,” said Luplow after the game.

Roscommon took to the field in the spread offense and efficiently marched down it, drawing first blood to claim a 7-0 lead.

The Pioneers (6-2, 6-0) responded with a drive of their own manufactured entirely on the ground. Gross scored from 15 yards out to make it 7-6.

On the extra point Roscommon was offside and the extra yardage tempted Luplow to go for two and take the lead.

Gross found his way in again and Clare led 8-7.

After the turn of the quarter Roscommon responded right back with a dazzling 66-yard run that brought the lead back to 14-8.

Offense continued to dictate the game as the Pioneers scored on another 14-yard run from Gross.

With the score at 15-14 in favor of Clare and 7:45 left in the half, Roscommon transitioned to its power run game in hopes of eating the clock and taking the lead before half.

A fourth down attempt for Roscommon fell short and Clare took over with a short field.

Yet momentum continued to wax and wane as Gross fumbled for the Pioneers giving Roscommon another chance.

Both teams exchanged personal foul penalties and an all-out air-raid brought Roscommon to the end zone, earning it a 21-15 lead with less than two minutes left in the first half.

Despite the dwindling clock the Pioneers had their eyes on the end zone though.

Gross notched a 50-yard run up the middle to put the ball inside the 30 before the Pioneers committed a turnover via fumble, their third of the night.

Roscommon attempted a last-second Hail Mary to extend its lead but it was picked off by Ryan Seiter to end the half.

Trailing by six points, the Pioneers took the field on defense to start the second half and blocked a Roscommon punt to take over just outside the red-zone.

Gross continued his stellar performance, eventually recording his third score of the night from nine yards out.

The extra point gave the Pioneers the lead 22-21.

It was Gross making big plays on defense as well. He interrupted a Roscommon drive with a pick at the Pioneer 30 yard line.

The two teams continued to exchange blows back and forth before Roscommon scored on a play from 18 yards out that began as a muffed handoff, and ended with a 28-22 Roscommon advantage.

In the fourth quarter it was a 20-yard catch from Punches to Joe Huston that set up the Pioneers inside the 10 yard-line. Three plays later, it was Punches scoring on the ground from five-yards out.

With a brand new one-point lead and a forced Roscommon turnover on the ensuing possession the hosts were in business.

The Pioneers set up shop from the Roscommon 33 with a chance to extend the lead and that’s exactly what they did.

Gross shouldered the load again, scoring his fourth touchdown of the contest to give Clare a 36-28 lead, its largest of the night.

Roscommon was forced to go for it on fourth down from the Clare 39 yard line. The play resulted in a sack and gave the Pioneers the ball with under five minutes left in the game.

Knowing that another score would put the game out of reach the Pioneers drove 61 yards before Punches scored from nine yards out.

In a last ditch effort, Roscommon attempted to make up ground, but simply ran out of time.

With a final score of 43-28, the Pioneers earned their sixth win of the season, a playoff berth, and at least a share of the Jack Pine Conference championship.

“It’s always our two goals to make the playoffs and win the conference. We don’t want to share (the Jack Pine Title) so we’ll see what happens,” grinned Luplow.

Punches finished the night 2-of-6 through the air for 32 yards, and an additional 60 yards rushing with two scores.

Last Updated: 10/18/2013 11:02:37 PM EST