FAUCETT, Mo. — Down a starting quarterback for much of the game, Class 1 No. 2 Mid-Buchanan faced its toughest challenge yet and took ownership of the fourth quarter to beat No. 5 East Buchanan 28-21 on Friday in Faucett, Missouri.

When asked postgame if this win stacks up with the best victories of his tenure, Dragons coach Aaron Fritz answered in the affirmative.

“Yes. How’s about yes?” he said. “They’re a great team, they’re a state title favorite for a reason. It’s a great win for us, a great win for our program, and I know they’re gonna try to find us again.”

The game lived up to all the anticipation of a rivalry game between unbeaten schools in search of the top seed in districts and a KCI title.

Mid-Buchanan (7-0) started the game as they seemingly always do by taking multi-touchdown lead in the first quarter. After pinning East Buchanan (6-1) on their own 9-yard line, forcing a quick three-and-out that put them in excellent field position after the Bulldogs’ punt. They scored just a few plays later, as quarterback Rawlins Brant connected with wide receiver Caiden Bailey for a 14-yard score to take a 6-0 lead.

Brant scored on an 8-yard run to extend their lead on the next possession.

The second quarter was kinder to the Bulldogs, who worked the ball down the field in both the air and on the ground, eventually scoring on a 6-yard run from sophomore Trevor Klein.

Their defense then came into form alongside their offense, and the next time they had the ball a big run from senior Cru Conaway set up an 18-yard touchdown connection from quarterback Conner Musser to receiver Luke Webb to take a 14-13 lead, as well as firm control of the game’s momentum.

At halftime, the Dragons just focused on what they needed to change on the field with Brant sidelined due to injury.

“We knew Rawlins was gone, so we just wanted to talk about adjustments,” Fritz said. “We told them that we loved them, that we were gonna figure it out, and that they need one thing on their mind and that is to find a way to win the game.”

Hunter spoke about what was going through his mind as he approached the unenviable task of replacing Brant against their toughest game of the season.

“It’s always scary when one of your buddies, your family, your starting quarterback goes down,” he said. “But everyone came together, we worked together and got the job done.”

It wasn’t smooth operating right away. The Bulldogs moved the ball methodically down the field on their opening drive of the second half.

Facing 4th and goal from the four yard line, East Buchanan went deep into their bag of tricks. Klein took the snap, pitched it to fellow running back Cru Conaway, who then hit Musser in the corner of the endzone to extend their lead to 21-13.

“Cru can throw a little bit. We’ve been practicing that all week and we were gonna unveil it,” Ritter said. “I wish we would have used it more to run our the clock, but that’s on me as a coach. This could have been a very different ballgame with a few different coaching calls.”

The Dragons, meanwhile, failed to pick up first downs on their first three possessions of the half. But as the defense stiffened up, Hunter finally got his legs beneath him with just over six minutes remaining. The senior took the team down the field, converting a number of crucial fourth downs, and finishing with a 19-yard rushing score of his own as well as running in the two-point conversion to tie it at 21.

“We just had to get some stops to give him the ball back so he could figure it out,” Fritz said. “That’s a credit to Blake, man. He was in a terrible position tonight, and he stepped up to the plate as a big-time senior and made some big plays for us.”

Disaster struck for the Bulldogs on their next offensive possession, as pressure on Musser resulted in a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown for senior linebacker Cage Burns.

“I was just thinking I need to run back as fast as I can, hoping nobody catches me from behind or anything,” he said. “Cramping all the way down actually, too.”

Musser, who had only one interception on the year prior to this game, threw his third pick of the game on the next pass, this time to Bailey.

With 96 yards to go and just over 1:30 left on the clock, the Bulldogs crossed midfield but failed to muster any legitimate scoring opportunities.

Ritter hopes his team can use this disappointment as a stepping stone to greater things.

“It was definitely a tough post game huddle. All those kids know that we should have won that game,” Ritter said. “Being able to finish a game is what championship teams do, and that’s why they were able to come back and finish and we weren’t.”

For the Dragons, they just want to keep up the good work with two weeks separating them from another KCI title and top district seed.

“Just keep it rolling into districts,” Hunter said. “Focus one team at a time and keep it rolling.”

Levi Smith can be reached at levi.smith@newspressnow.com.

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