GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. -- When it came down to crucial moments in the game, Benton came through.
Grain Valley could not.
The Eagles turned the ball over three times and couldn’t come up with a stop or first down when needed most. Benton, on the other hand, converted three critical fourth-down plays and halted Grain Valley on defense when it mattered most as it took a 20-15 decision Friday.
“I don’t know if we have any toes left after all the times we shot ourselves in the foot,” Grain Valley coach David Allie said. “Not to take anything away from them. They are a great team and played a great game, but we made too many mistakes.”
Most notably, Cardinal sophomore quarterback Cooper Burton and running back Curtis Weston who came up big.
Burton, who was 7-for-17 passing with 123 yards, opened the scoring when he converted a third-and-11 to Tobin Sisk up top for a 64 yard-score and a 6-0 lead at the 4:31 mark in the first.
Burton and Weston had to step up after starting running back T.J. Rice went out with a leg injury in the first quarter. They both did in a huge way.
“When our starting running back went out, I kind of panicked,” Benton coach Matt Tabor said. “That’s why we opened up the pass game. We didn’t have much success throwing the ball in the second quarter, but we did in the second half. That helped. We also came out and rushed the ball well. We had 180 yards on the ground.”
With 1 minute, 27 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles made their first big mistake. With the Eagles pinned down at their own 1-yard line after a Benton punt, Grain Valley signal-caller Kellen Holland ran a quarterback sneak to get to the 6. On the next play, the snap between him and center Isaiah Hudgens was muffed and was recovered by Benton. On the second play of the subsequent drive, Weston pounded it in from five yards out to put Benton up 13-7 with 36 seconds left.
During the Cardinals second drive in the third quarter, they were clutch once again. On a fourth-and-2, the 6-foot, 230 pound Weston bullied his way through the middle of the Eagle defense to pick up a first down.
Burton later found Sisk for a first down on a third-and-11, and during that same possession, made the biggest play of the game.
After his touchdown run was wiped away after a holding call, three plays later, his Cardinals faced a fourth-and-goal situation from the Grain Valley 14-yard line. On the next play, Sisk found a soft spot in the middle of the defense and Burton threw a strike to his No. 1 receiver who caught it just behind the goal line for the score. Weston would run it in for the two-point conversion to make it 20-7.
“He always shows up late,” Burton said of an Eagles defensive back. “I told coach, we were on the same page and said, ‘Let’s run the play. And he showed up late and it worked.”
On Benton’s next drive, the Eagles would capitalize. With the Cardinals at their own 8, a holding call put the ball a the 1. On the next play, the snap missed the hands of Burton and went out of the back of the endzone for a Grain Valley safety.
In the fourth period, following a long punt return by Isaiah Duong which set up the Eagles on the Benton 35, running back Mason Smith scored his second touchdown on a 7-yard jaunt to make it 20-15 with 3:42 left in the game.
During the ensuing Benton possession, Grain Valley stuffed two runs to make it, third-and-8, giving the team a chance to get the ball back. However, Burton rolled out to his right, found a hole and dove past the first-down marker to move the chains.
“He was kind of a jitterbug. We had a game plan for him, but it was hard for us to tackle him,” Allie said. “We had him corralled and wrapped up and he would somehow get out of it.”
When the Eagles got the ball back, they only had 47 seconds left, and made it to the Cardinal 32 before time expired, giving Benton the win.
“We were savvy for the win,” Burton said. “We needed this. The south side of St. Joe needed this. We got it done”
Holland was 10-for-18 passing with 100 yards and two interceptions. Zack Ehlen led the Eagles in rushing with 105 yards on 14 totes.