Methodically, Reed chipped away at the deficit. An 18-point deficit slowly vanished as the Raiders scored on each of their final four possessions, while their defense held the Cougars to one score, giving the Blue and Gold a 41-38 regional semifinal victory Friday night and a championship date with Damonte Ranch Friday at 6 p.m.
Out of halftime with the contest tied at 10-10, Reed looked as though it would take control and begin to separate itself from the Cougars. On the first play from scrimmage, the Raiders picked off SSHS quarterback Hunter Fralick and turned the turnover into three points on a 35-yard Chris Denn field goal.
Then Spanish Springs exploded.
Before the Raiders knew what hit them, Spanish Springs threw a three-touchdown combo that left Reed dazed and the Blue and Gold faithful in a stunned silence. Across the field, the Cougar sideline and fans were jumping for joy as Spanish Springs turned a 13-10 deficit into a 31-13 advantage in a matter of two minutes.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ryder Lowry picked up the ball along the ground and raced down the left sideline, darting and weaving between traffic until he was in the end zone, giving the Cougars their first lead of the game at 17-13 with 9:48 to play in the third quarter.
Two plays later, Spanish Springs was celebrating again.
Deep in their own territory, the Raiders tossed a swing pass to receiver Brett Chaney. Almost immediately Chaney was met by a gang of Cougar tacklers that stripped the ball and an opportunistic Vance Lively scooped up the bouncing pigskin and went the other way untouched for a 30-yard TD and 24-13 lead at the 8:59 mark.
On Reed’s next play from scrimmage, the SSHS ball hawks again forced a turnover as linebackers Peter Riolo and Vinny Agliolo popped the ball out of the hands of Reed’s Trae Wells. Kenny Depree picked up the fumble and took the ball 39 yards down to the 10-yard line, setting up a 9-yard pass from Fralick to Lively to put the Cougs up 31-13 with 7:51 in the third.
While it seemed like the perfect time for the Raiders to hit every panic button around, Reed coach Ernie Howren reminded his team to keep the course.
“I just walked up and down the sidelines very calmly reminding the guys ‘There’s nine minutes left to go in the third quarter. Stay focused and just continue doing what we do and we’ll be alright.’ You never panic in a game, but that was not a point to panic at all.
“You’re going to have momentum shifts in a big game like this. Spanish Springs is a very good football team. They’re going to create big plays. The key is to understand to stay within your scheme and it will take care of itself. You don’t go out there and start changing your scheme and who you are. Just do what you’re supposed to do. That’s what I think they did. They just stayed within the scheme and kept doing their jobs.”
Remaining true to their game plan, Reed (9-3) meticulously erased the Spanish Springs (8-4) lead little by little.
A 26-yard strike from Reed QB Mark Nowaczewski to receiver Devon Gray as he stopped on a dime, cut back toward the sideline and then bulldozed his way in for the score trimmed the lead to 31-20 with 6:19 left in the third quarter.
After a Spanish Springs punt, Reed marched down the field and capped the drive off with a 1-yard dive by running back Ty Shepard to leave the score at 31-27 with 1:53 on the clock in the third.
With the Cougars driving on their next possession, a turnover on a fourth-and-6 attempt from the Reed 35-yard line kept the momentum in favor of the Raiders.
As the SSHS receiver jumped in the air to catch the potential first down pass, he was greeted back Warner upon landing back on the turf. The hit popped the ball into the air and a diving Jacob Striejewske dove to snatch the ball up before it hit the turf. With the ball back in the offense’s hands, the Raiders went to the air.
A 43-yard connection between Nowaczewski and Chaney gave RHS a 34-31 advantage with 7:29 left in the game, its first lead since over 10 minutes to play in the third quarter.
Following a failed conversion on fourth down by the Cougars, the tandem of Nowaczewski and Chaney again hooked up, this time on a 52-yard bomb to put Reed ahead 41-31 with 2:25 on the clock.
Spanish Springs added a 27-yard score to Lively to bring the score to 41-38, but with under a minute remaining, any Cougar hopes of a miracle evaporated as an onside kick went bouncing out of bounds.
“They outcoached me,” Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. “That’s all it is. Ernie and his staff outcoached me and my staff. That’s really what it boils down to. Our kids outplayed them. They outplayed them. They did everything we asked them to do. This one falls squarely on my shoulders. Ernie beat me more than his kids beat my kids. The scoreboard is going to show a Reed win because tonight Ernie was a better coach than I am.
“Our kids put us in a position to win and we should have. We should have won this game and we didn’t. We didn’t score in the second half and we didn’t stop them. I don’t think Reed did anything to us other than outcoach us. From the first whistle to the horn. I can’t think of anything our kids did that we didn’t ask them to do. They did more than they needed to do and we as coaches didn’t put them in a good enough position to finish it.”
Leading the Raiders to the comeback win, Nowaczewski finished the night 19-of-29 passing for 343 yards and four touchdowns. Leading the receiving corps was Chaney, who grabbed six passes for 149 yards and two scores. Gray was close behind as he caught eight passes to the tune of 146 yards and a pair of TDs. Shepard finished the contest with 44 yards on 19 carries, along with a score.
Fralick led the Spanish Springs effort with 362 yards and a score through the air on 30-of-46 passing. On the receiving end of 11 of those passes, Lively capped the night off at 146 yards and two touchdowns. Fralick also led all Cougar rushers with 12 carries for 49 yards.