By Nate Thompson
RAVENNA – The two most surprising downfalls for the Ravenna football team during Saturday’s Division 6 regional championship game against LeRoy Pine River was the Bulldogs’ struggles to establish the run, and their inability to slow Bucks’ quarterback Mason Powell.
Powell, a 5-foot-11, 179-pound senior, played much bigger than his size, rushing for 258 yards and three touchdowns in Pine River’s 42-14 upset win over the Bulldogs before a standing-room crowd at Citizens Field.
On the other side of the ball, Pine River’s defense was a swarming force throughout the contest, limiting Ravenna to 107 rushing yards.
The Bucks (9-3) will face Maple City Glen Lake (10-2) next weekend in the Division 6 state semifinals, while Ravenna, which played in its first regional championship game since 2009, ended its season with a 9-3 record.
Ravenna head coach David Smith said it was frustrating his squad couldn’t control the game offensively, considering the Bulldogs had a significant size advantage on the offensive line.
“Sometimes things don’t line up on certain days and it wasn’t our day today,” Smith said. “But, man, those Pine River kids played their butts off. That’s a nice little football team. They played hard. You get to this point and it’s all about desire, and I think they had a little bit more desire and a little bit more intensity than our team.”
Powell established himself as a superb playmaker early on. On Pine River’s first drive midway through the first quarter, he avoided being tackled near the sideline and flung a short shovel pass to wide-open receiver Matt Stone in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown.
Later in the quarter, he faked a jet sweep handoff and found a gaping hole up the middle, using his speed to blaze 64 yards for a touchdown that gave Pine River a 15-0 first-quarter advantage.
“He’s (Powell) our leader in every facet of the game,” said Pine River coach Terry Martin. “Any time it was down to where we needed a play, we knew he was going to get that play.”
Smith thought his team was sluggish in the early going and could never crawl out of the hole.
“We kind of had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look on our faces,” he said. “We fell behind and we didn’t have that the last few weeks. We’ve been scoring quickly and today we just couldn’t pull ourselves back.”
The Bulldogs cut their deficit to 15-6 with 2:47 left in the first half when junior Camron Passenier stepped in front of a Powell pass and returned the interception 25 yards for a touchdown.
But Powell responded quickly with a 65-yard touchdown run.
“We knew No. 2 was tough to get down; but maybe not that tough,” Smith said. “It was a combination of us not being disciplined and not breaking down, opening up natural running lanes for him.”
The other game-changing answer for Pine River came early in the third quarter.
Ravenna recovered a Bucks’ fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half and turned it into a short-field scoring drive, capped by a 7-yard touchdown scamper by Passenier.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Pine River’s Tristen Nelson secured a bouncing kick and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown.
The Bucks’ 29-14 lead was more than enough. Ravenna went three-and-out on its next two drives and gave up a 90-yard interception return by Pine River senior Hunter Esiline for the game’s final score with 4:19 left in the fourth quarter.
Ravenna finished the contest with just 167 total yards of offense. Bulldogs’ standout senior David Thompson – who had 323 and 208 yards on the ground in their two previous playoff victories – was limited to 44 yards on 17 carries.