Little River hangs on in wild rematch against Canton-Galva

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 11:26 PM CST
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LITTLE RIVER, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Everyone expected a shootout and that’s what happened in Friday’s rematch against the last two state champions in 8-Man, Div. I. Little River played from behind most of the night before taking the lead at 62-60 with 6:14 to play. In a wild finish, the Redskins held on 76-68 to keep their perfect season alive and head back to the state championship game in Newton.

A 12-yard run from Canton-Galva standout Tyson Struber gave the Eagles a 46-34 lead with 2:05 to play in the third quarter.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Little River junior Braxton Lafferty found sophomore Andrew Smith over the middle on a 16 yard strike. The Redskins nearly forced a turnover on downs on the next Eagle drive but a Struber fumble worked just as well. Two plays later, Redskin junior Braden Young ran 55 yards to the house. Lafferty’s 2-point conversion put Little River ahead 48-46.

It only got crazier from there. Canton-Galva answered almost immediately when junior TJ Koehn took a Garrett Maltbie pass 59 yards. A 57-yard return from Young on the ensuing kick set up a Lafferty touchdown run. The 2-point try failed for a 54-54 score with 8:45 remaining.

And it got even crazier yet. Little River looked to have a fourth down on defense but the Redskins were called for targeting. A few plays later, Maltbie punched it in from a yard out. The Eagles led 60-54.

Laffery took the very next play from scrimmage 54 yards. His 2-point run put the Redskins back on top 62-60 with still 6:14 on the clock. An eternity in this semifinal battle.

Instead of an answer this time, Maltbie was sacked on fourth down by Little River senior Ty Herzog. Junior Grant Stephens picked up the fumble and returned it 35 yards for a 70-60 score.

But there was still lots of time. Maltbie capped the next Eagle drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cason Mastre. With the two points, Canton-Galva trailed just 70-68.

Those points would matter. Again on the first play from scrimmage, Lafferty ran 40 yards to the house. That 2-point try failed to keep it a one possession game.

But Herzog would again be the hero. On another fourth-down play, Herzog appeared to have a sack but the play was ruled an incomplete pass. Little River took one final possession of the ball and this time was able to run out the clock.

The game went back and forth all night with Little River gaining momentum just before the half to gain its first lead at 26-24. Maltbie and Struber connected on a 30-yard play to give the Eagles the lead back at 32-26 with just 16 seconds to play in the opening half. The teams traded 64 points in the wild fourth quarter.

Maltbie threw for 229 yards and three touchdowns in the second half alone, completing his night with 410 yards and six touchdowns on 22-of-35 passing. He also rushed for 134 yards on 11 carries, including a 65-yard break on the first play of the game.

Struber caught 12 passes for 255 yards with three touchdowns. Mastre added 92 yards and two scores on his seven receptions.

Lafferty, normally part of a dual-quarterback offense in Little River, took over full-time when Rylan Konen was injured in the second half. Lafferty ran the ball 26 times for 198 yards and five touchdowns. He threw for another 106 yards and a touchdown on 4-of-5 passing.

Konen was big in the first half with 58 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 3-of-5 passing. Konen also rushed for 48 yards on seven carries in the first two quarters.

Canton-Galva ends its season at 10-2 overall, with both losses coming in giant battles against Little River. The reigning champion Redskins move to 12-0 and play Meade in next Saturday’s state championship game.

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