BONNE TERRE — The North County Raiders may have been counted out by some fans after a 1-7 start including a loss in the first round of district play, but those faithful few who braved the misty cold weather to cheer on their team were elated to watch a fourth quarter rally that resulted in North County improving to 1-1 with a 27-20 win over the De Soto Dragons.
De Soto (6-3) found the Raiders defense very tough in the trenches as they were only able to gain 238 on the ground and were held scoreless in two of the four quarters. North County also had trouble moving the ball on the ground with only 112 yards rushing.
North County split their quarterback duties between Jake Smith and Seth Caldwell with Smith making the bulk of the passing plays, and Caldwell using the early start wit the football to strike quickly on most of the running plays.
North County struck first early in the game. Starting from their 18-yard line, the raiders took only seven plays with Caldwell running the ball in from the seven. The bulk of the drive came on a pair of 29-yard passes to Joey Winckel and Caleb Boyer. The extra point try was blocked by De Soto’s Justin Grothe.
De Soto marched the ball right back in five plays with a 35-yard bootleg by quarterback Jay Algiere that had the Raiders defense heading the opposite way on the play. Chad Reando made good on the kick for the one-point lead, but not for long.
It took North County only three plays to go 60 yards for their second score. The first play lost the Raiders three yards, but Caldwell just added it into his next run and took the ball to house after making a short catch from Smith for 63 yards. Aaron Parker made good on the kick for a 13-7 lead.
It took only seven plays for the Dragons to counter-punch. Moving the ball to the three, Algiere was able to run it in with still two minutes left in the first quarter. It would be another 14 minutes of playing time before the goal line would be crossed on either end of the field as both defenses stood tall.
An extended drive by the Dragons ended in a an interception by defensive back Devin Howell late in the quarter at the Raiders 10, and North County was able to keep the ball until the horn sounded for the half.
The Dragons, which had won their first district game and a second win would insure their playoff hopes, came out on fire as they took possession of the football at their 41-yard line after the kickoff return. On the first play from scrimmage, Running back Mike Lee broke looses inside tackle and scampered 51 yards to make the score 20-13.
The game again got into a back and forth battle, but only on North County’s end of the football field, as the Raiders never crossed the 50, but their defense stopped the Dragons who started each possession inside the 50.
Starting with one minute left in the third, the Raiders put on their longest drive, taking 15 plays to go 70 yards. On a fourth and three at the 11-yard line Robbie Holland hauled in a short pass from Caldwell, that brought t out the sticks and upon perusal by the referees, the Raiders were awarded a first down by a nose.
Caldwell went off tackle to the one, and Smith sneaked it in from there. Parker’s extra-point try brought a gasp from the Raider fans as it hit the crossbar and bounded back onto the field.
The Raider fans mood would turn to instant elation as the Raiders recovered the onside kick with still six minutes left in the game.
Five plays later, Smith hit Caldwell in the flat and the running back/quarterback/receiver took it 41 yards for the lead.
Parker made good on the extra point, forcing De Soto if they should score in their last possession to have to go for two if they wanted the win.
North County’s defense came up big, forcing three incomplete passes and stopping the Dragons on downs at the Raiders’ 42 with 55 seconds left, just enough time to take two knees.
North County must now beat Windsor and hope for Festus to beat De Soto by at least enough points to give the Raiders a berth in the Class 4 Regionals
De Soto 14 0 6 0 – 20
North County 13 0 0 14 – 27
NC (0-6) Caldwell 7 yd run ( kick failed), 9:13
D (7-6) Algiere 35 yd run (Reando kick), 6:37
NC (7-13) Caldwell 11 yd pass from Smith (Parker kick), 5:10
D (14-13) Algiere 3 yd run (Reando kick), 1:54
D (20-13) Lee 59 yd run (kick failed), 11:44
NC (20-19) Smith 1 yd run (kick failed), 6:33
NC (20-27) Caldwell 41 yd pass from Smith (Parker kick), 4:25