LADUE, Mo. – Significant injuries to three teammates in the third quarter made D.J. Miller an even more obvious threat within the depleted John Burroughs offense on Saturday.
But a North County football team that repeatedly halted its own progress through physical and mental gaffes could not contain the Iowa State University commit in crunch time.
Freshman back-up quarterback Duncan Clongier completed seven straight passes after taking over in the third quarter, and the Bombers prevailed 42-36 in the regular season finale.
Miller had an enormous fourth quarter that started with an acrobatic interception, and continued with a 33-yard catch behind the secondary that set up the decisive touchdown.
Isaac Bledsoe notched a tiebreaking 1-yard run on the next snap, but the margin stayed at six with 4:50 left after Raiders lineman Pacen DeClue blocked his third extra point of the game.
The Raiders ran with authority and abundant success between the tackles, but altered their approach at a crucial juncture while seeking a game-winning response.
They needed less than a yard on third down from the Burroughs 41, but were stopped on a delay before an unblocked Miller drilled Layton Mallow for a loss on a wide pitch to end the North County hope.
Miller cut back after sweeping left, and crossed the field on a lengthy run that was partially brought back by a stiff-arm to the facemask. He then picked up one more first down to punctuate the win.
North County wobbled into the Class 4, District 1 playoffs as the No. 4 seed by merely eight hundredths of a point in the official MSHSAA standings, and will host Sikeston in the first round on Friday.
The Raiders overcame two separate 14-point deficits to ignite a gradual comeback before intermission on a pivotal two-minute drive.
Cole Ziegler caught a perfect throw from quarterback Kolten Poorman on a deep corner route, and the 39-yard touchdown with 49 seconds left brought the margin to 28-22.
Burroughs (4-4) encountered a wall of adversity over the next nine minutes. That stretch included three turnovers, starting with a leaping interception by Ziegler to close the first half.
Caleb Hughes shined for the Bombers with 120 yards and three first-half touchdowns on 15 carries, but fumbled on a crunching hit by Karter Kekec and Poorman and did not return.
North County (5-4) was inches away from obtaining the tying score after taking over at the opposing 40, as Poorman completed a 15-yard throw to Tyler Murphy.
Jaelen Reed broke multiple tackles moments later, but fumbled as his momentum reached the goal line. The ball popped directly into the hands of Simeon Williams, and the play was eventually ruled a touchback after all five officials huddled for a discussion.
The Raiders refocused to force a three-and-out, and Burroughs freshman Adisa Roberts was carted off the field with a serious left leg injury while covering the ensuing punt.
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Kekec gained 32 yards on a difficult catch over his defender, and North County overcame a holding flag in the red zone to finally complete its comeback bid.
Reed plowed straight ahead to convert fourth-and-7 on a running play, then plunged across from the 6 to forge a 28-28 deadlock with 6:14 left in the third quarter.
Bombers starting QB Chris Pittman was sacked by DeClue and limped away in his final action – resulting in another punt – and lineman Grant Bockman recovered a subsequent Bledsoe fumble.
But the Raiders failed to capitalize on both stops, and Aaron Guller blasted Poorman with a blind-side sack after being completely unaccounted for on an edge blitz.
North County squandered another chance when Miller picked off Poorman in the end zone after Noah Mesey had lunged at the marker to extend that drive on a fourth-down catch.
But another empty series and short punt by Burroughs put the Raiders at the 33, and Reed delivered the first lead for his club at 36-28 on a bruising 21-yard scamper ahead of Kekec’s two-point conversion with 9:19 remaining.
Burroughs produced nearly nothing positive on five straight possessions after scoring on each of its first five, but was rejuvenated once Clongier lined up behind center.
Bledsoe had a 10-yard reception and 11-yard run before Clongier hit Williams on a 14-yard touchdown slant. Miller threw a halfback pass to Beckett Tasker on another trick play for the tying points.
Ben Cummings fooled the Raiders to recover his own ensuing onside kick in yet another gamble that worked for Burroughs after executing the exact same move to begin the game.
The Bombers needed only three plays from that point to retake the lead for good, as Miller followed with the biggest of his three catches. He also totaled 101 yards on five carries.
North County (5-4) stumbled from the outset, never receiving the opening kick after winning the coin toss. Miller burned the Raiders on a reverse for an initial 48-yard touchdown.
Layton Mallow then fumbled on the Raiders’ second play from scrimmage, and Cummings kicked a 30-yard field goal for a 9-0 Burroughs lead.
Poorman was 10-of-17 passing for 142 yards, notched 117 more on 18 carries, and guided the Raiders on a much-needed answer before the first quarter concluded.
He moved the chains with keepers of 14 and 12 yards, and zipped a quick 5-yard touchdown slant into Kekec, who also got the two-point conversion.
North County allowed a deflating 20-yard run on a fourth-and-6 fake punt on the next series, and the Bombers converted again as Malachi Chunn netted 12 yards on fourth-and-4 from the 14.
Hughes punctuated that march from the 2, and later added a 1-yard run to build a 22-8 cushion. His creative 34-yard burst included several tackles to answer a 10-yard scoring sweep by Mallow.