Bobcats edge Portagers in thriller

Brethren’s James Connolly stretches out for extra yards during Friday’s win against Onekama. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

Brethren’s James Connolly stretches out for extra yards during Friday’s win against Onekama. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

ONEKAMA — Trailing by a point with under a minute remaining, Brethren quarterback Lucas Richardson threw towards the corner of the end zone on second-and-goal from nine yards out.

Up went receiver James Connolly, and down went Onekama’s reign in the rivalry.

Connolly’s game-winning grab over two defenders gave the Bobcats a 27-22 victory Friday night to snap a nine-game skid against the Portagers.

“It means everything,” Richardson said afterwards. “We wanted to put this in the books, for sure.”

Connolly scored all four touchdowns for Brethren — three on the ground and one from the air — and finished with 136 yards rushing and 48 yards receiving.

“You’ve got to trust your best players, your best athletes to make the play,” Richardson said of the late connection with Connolly. “You’ve got to keep your composure. You can’t get too excited, you can’t get too down on yourself. You’ve got to dig in and bear down.”

Brethren’s final drive came on the heels of its first deficit of the game. The Portagers had just gone up 22-21 with a touchdown and successful 2-point conversion with just 3:32 remaining.

“When they scored, given the time we had left, I knew we weren’t dead yet,” said Bobcats coach Alvin Rischel. “Coach Hunter and his kids dug down and found big plays when they needed to, and luckily we made our plays at the end too.”

The last-minute heroics were a fitting end to a back-and-forth night between the two West Michigan D League rivals.

After the teams traded scoreless possessions in the first, Connolly put Brethren on the board by breaking a 66-yard touchdown run at 4:25 for a 7-0 lead.

Onekama responded with an eight-play drive that carried over to the second quarter, and was capped when quarterback Tyler Johnson punched in his first of three rushing touchdowns at 11:55. Johnson finished with 28 yards on the ground while throwing for 103 on 5-of-11 passing.

The Portagers trailed 7-6 after a missed extra-point attempt, but fell into a deeper hole when Connolly punched in another score at 7:17 from five yards out for a 14-6 lead that held up to halftime.

“It was a struggle all night,” said Onekama coach Jim Hunter. “Connolly’s a horse, so you tip your hat to him. Offensively, we struggled with that blitz again. We didn’t give our quarterback enough time to make those throws.”

The Portagers hit the ground running in the third, needing just four plays to move the ball 60 yards before tying the game at 14 with Johnson’s 1-yard keeper and Jon Acton’s 2-point conversion.

Acton was part of Onekama’s one-two punch in the backfield with 79 yards on the ground while teammate Jordan Coe led the way with 102.

The tie held up through the rest of the third, but Connolly was quick to put Brethren back out on top, 21-14, with a 28-yard rushing score at 10:43 in the fourth.

Onekama (3-4, 0-2 WMD) chewed up the clock on the ensuing drive before jumping out in front by a point. It used 13 plays over an eight-minute span, and converted on a trio of third downs as well as a big fourth-and-2 on Brethren’s 4-yard line to set up Johnson’s 1-yard keeper. Trailing by a point, the Portagers opted to go for the lead and Acton punched in the 2-point conversion to put them up 22-21 with 3:32 remaining.

“Huge drive, huge conversions,” Hunter said. “I was proud of all that stuff. Our kids battled. I was very proud of them.”

Brethren (2-4, 1-1 WMD) started its final drive with a 10-yard loss in the backfield, but Richardson and Connolly took over from there. Richardson, who finished 3-for-8 with 48 yards passing, completed all of his passes in the series.

The two connected for 17 yards on the second-and-long, and two plays later, Connolly hauled in a 22-yard catch on the right sideline to put Brethren on Onekama’s 18.

With 44 seconds left, Richardson threw to Connolly again for the game-winning score in the end zone.

“This game’s a special one,” Rischel said of the win. “Before we played it, we had it circled. This is a huge rivalry for us, so to come back and win is huge.

“We did a good job this week of telling these kids how important it was.”

Mike Pettinato added 41 yards on the ground for the Bobcats while Tyler Dean led the defense with 12 tackles.

For Onekama, the late heartbreak essentially eliminates its playoff hopes, and wasn’t an ideal end to homecoming.

“I feel so bad for these kids,” Hunter said. “Unfortunately we’ve had an opportunity to talk about resiliency a couple times this year, and yeah, this one will be tough.

“Our kids fought hard the second half, and I know it hurts them, but maybe this gets them to work that much harder.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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