The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 15, 2012

Two late scores propel Joplin past Rolla 29-25

ROLLA, Mo. — When the Rolla Bulldogs scored twice in less than two minutes in the fourth quarter on Friday night and then forced a crucial turnover, the Joplin Eagles, losers of two straight heartbreakers and suddenly down by nine points, had two options.

“We knew we could either lay down and be nervous and accept that it was going to be another loss that we felt like we should have won,” Joplin senior Danny Drouin said. “Or we could set the standard, not lay down, finally play to our ability and get the job done.”

The Eagles chose the latter.

Joplin scored twice in the final 3 minutes, 32 seconds, including a game-winning nine-play, 74-yard drive that was capped by Chris Payton-Barba’s 3-yard touchdown run with just 29 seconds remaining that gave the Eagles a 29-25 win over Rolla at Lions Memorial Stadium.

“A win coming off a four-hour bus ride, getting back to .500, this is huge,” Drouin said after his Eagles improved to 2-2 overall and in Ozark Conference play. “Getting back to .500 was crucial for us. The past two week, those were beatable teams we just couldn’t go out and do it. We knew we had to go out and execute this week. There was adversity tonight just like there has been in every single game, but we got it done.”

The Eagles certainly appeared to be heading to a third straight loss.

After Adam St. Peter scored from four yards out to give Joplin a 16-13 lead with 8:52 remaining, Rolla quickly took control.

Quarterback Michael Steelman — after Tyler McRae’s 34-yard kickoff return — took an option keeper 54 yards for a touchdown, taking the Joplin lead away after just 20 seconds.

The Bulldogs then recovered an onside kick and, four plays later, took a 25-16 lead on Steelman’s 26-yard pass to a wide-open Alex McCormack with 6:46 remaining.

Joplin drove to the Rolla 17 but gave the ball right back on an apparent incomplete pass that was ruled a fumble. The Bulldogs suddenly had the ball, up nine points with just 8:00 remaining.

“You can’t help but think ‘Oh man, here it goes again,’” Joplin coach Chris Shields said, referring to Joplin’s two straight close losses.

“But you have to put it behind you and play one snap at a time. You can’t come back and win it on one play, you have to focus and execute and our guys did that.”

Joplin forced a three-and-out before Gabe Sachetta hit a streaking Tamerik Branham for a 44-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive to make it 25-23 with 3:32 remaining.

“That created so much momentum. That was kind of a hopeful throw,” Sachetta said. “I saw the safety draw in on the dig and I thought maybe Tamerik would beat him and he did and made an awesome catch.”

The Joplin defense forced a second straight three-and-out, giving the Eagles the ball at their own 26 with just 2:23 remaining.

Sachetta hit Terrell Gilmore for a 25-yard pass down the sideline on the first play of the drive before scrambling 20 yards and getting out of bounds. Just two plays into the drive, the Eagles were at the Bulldog 29.

Shields said the Eagles were content to push the ball and set up Brock Renken for a game-winning field goal attempt, but Payton-Barba, fueled by the offensive line, took matters into his own hands.

The senior, who finished with 187 yards on 26 carries, rushed six straight times and scored from 3 yards out with 29 seconds left for the game-winner.

“We felt comfortable. I don’t think we really felt the pressure,” Sachetta said. “We had been in that situation and lost and we just wanted to come through and score.”

Sachetta finished the night 9-for-18 for 149 yards, one touchdown and an interception, which came on a tipped pass. He also rushed eight times for 37 yards. St. Peter scored two touchdowns on two carries.

The Eagles outgained Rolla 398 yards to 320. The Bulldogs got 136 yards on 31 carries from Michael Pickrell while Steelman rushed for 94 yards and passed for 54.

“That’s the best 0-3 team I’ve ever seen,” Shields said of Rolla. “You have to give them credit.

“We played tough defensively early and late, but we’re still not consistent. We have to fix that.”

But in the end it was a win, Joplin’s first since a 50-7 season opener against Glendale on Aug. 24.

“The last three weeks we’ve been in dog fights and it would have been real easy for our kids to get down,” Shields said.  But they fought back and  I couldn’t be more proud of them. It shows the difference a year can make.”

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