FARMINGTON – When star running back Royce Harris suffered an injury in the third quarter on Friday night, the Farmington football team refused to panic and kept its attention on the primary objective.
The Knights stayed one step ahead of visiting Cape Central, and overcame their own mistakes to secure their first district championship in eight years.
Braden Botkin steadily compiled 170 yards on 29 carries, and senior Eli Lamb scored on a tricky reverse to clinch a 45-35 victory in a high-scoring rematch between the SEMO North rivals.
The usually dominant Farmington defense suffered a few unexpected leaks, but generated four sacks and delivered a crucial stand at its 5-yard line to help snap the playoff drought.
Kaden Files completed his only two passes to Harris for touchdowns, and added a scoring sneak on the ground as the Knights successfully protected an early 17-0 lead.
Farmington (10-2) dominated the first half statistically with a 228-87 margin in total offense, and will face either McCluer or St. Mary’s from District 2 next weekend in a Class 4 state quarterfinal.
Cape Central (7-5) relied on big plays – including five passes covering at least 30 yards – to stay in contention while facing its fifth state-ranked opponent of the season.
Donye Taylor had four receptions for 116 yards, and also returned a fumble 63 yards for a pivotal score before halftime in defeat.
Botkin gained at least 10 yards on four straight carries behind a strong push by the line, and Harris chewed up 22 more on the next snap near the midway juncture of the second quarter.
Files leaped over a crowd to restore a 24-7 lead, and Farmington teased a potentiall blowout after mounting another promising push before intermission.
A call to pass on third-and-1 in Cape territory with three timeouts available and about 1:40 remaining backfired, however, and instead handed free points the other way.
Outside linebacker Cameron Harris punched the ball away from Files on a clean blitz, and Taylor raced to the opposite end zone to bring the Tigers within 24-14.
The Knights responded in the third quarter when Logan Tabor sacked Cameron Cox, and an ensuing punt snap bounced away for a recovery by Alex Smith at the Cape Central 20.
Botkin followed with the first of his two scoring runs from 5 yards out, and Farmington induced yet another punt with the game seemingly under control.
But Royce Harris would muff the kick while trying to catch it on the run, and Tyrus Reddin took a screen pass from Cox 27 yards for a touchdown as the margin was reduced to 31-20.
Royce Harris would leave the action moments later. He sustained a blow to the chest and stayed down for a couple of minutes, and did not return to the field despite walking off under his own power.
Twin brother Rothman Harris would have an inspired night on the defensive side with a solo sack and two more that were shared on back-to-back plays. He also blocked an extra point.
Botkin broke multiple tackles and timed his cut perfectly on a 24-yard touchdown to revive the Knights and make it 38-21.
Rothman Harris then dropped running back DaShawn Franklin for a loss on fourth-and-3 from the 5 after the Tigers flipped the field on a 57-yard strike from Cox to Henry Brown.
Taylor added a 42-yard scoring catch on a 1-play possession, and Cox later had a brilliant 21-yard TD scramble two plays after Lamb walked in from the 6 for Farmington.
Carson Sutton drilled Cox on a hurried keeper in the closing seconds, and the Tigers were called for an illegal formation on fourth down to seal their fate.
Cox completed only 9-of-25 passes – although three were dropped – but racked up 246 yards. He also rushed nine times for 74 yards.
Gaven Earley and Judd Cunningham assisted on sacks for the Knights, whose disciplined approach resulted in just two accepted penalties.
Royce Harris had 71 yards on eight carries, but burned Cape Central on two well-timed, surprise throws that were set up by the consistent rushing attack.
Files lofted a 27-yard pass to a wide-open Harris when all 11 Tigers joined a blitz on third-and-1. The same concept worked again on the next Farmington play from scrimmage.
Harris went 60 yards on the latter reception for a 17-0 cushion. The Knights would produce points on each of its first four possessions.
Franklin put Cape on the board with a 4-yard scamper.
The victory highlighted a seven-year journey at Farmington for head coach Erik Kruppe, whose first squad in the 2013-14 season finished 1-9 overall.
The Knights delivered consecutive three-and-out series after junior kicker Kael Krause nudged a school-record 43-yard field goal over the crossbar on the initial drive of the game.