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Central bows out with loss to Eureka
Central coach Lawrence Brookins warned of a Eureka Wildcat football team capable of methodically ripping an opponent's heart out.
After Monday night's Class 4 quarterfinal game between two 10-1 teams, the Tigers still had their hearts.
That was evidenced by the tears, hugs and choked words after a 24-21 loss to Eureka at Houck Stadium.
Eureka, which got three touchdown runs from senior fullback Boone Brady, departed Houck with an 11-1 record and a semifinal date with Clayton on Saturday.
Central, which finished with its best record since 1978 when it also finished 10-2, saw its third straight season end in the quarterfinals.
"We played our hearts out and left everything on the field," said Central senior defensive end John Thies, who along with his linemates had the task of stopping the power-minded Wildcats. "They're a great football team. We just got stuck here again and that sucks. But we paved the way for the underclassmen and hopefully they can keep it going."
Central senior running back Monroe Hicks rushed for a game-high 123 yards on 23 carries, but he, like many of the Tiger players, was going nowhere fast afterwards.
"I won't leave until the lights go off," Hicks said solemnly.
In a game of two evenly matched teams, Central finished with 286 yards of total offense while Eureka finished with 307 yards, 247 coming on the ground on 54 attempts.
"It's hard, I thought this would be the year we'd go on," Central senior receiver Chris Conrad said.
The ultimate difference between the two teams proved to be two Tiger turnovers -- just their ninth and 10th of the season --and an Ashton Lake field goal with 2:48 left in the game that broke a 21-21 tie.
"It was neck and neck all the way," Thies said. "It wasn't whose offense was better or who's defense was better. It was whoever shot themselves in the foot, and unfortunately we did that."
Central, which trailed 14-7 at halftime, had scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half, but saw its third and final possession of the half -- starting at its own 20 -- last just one play and end in a coffin-sealing interception. Eureka took possession at the Tiger 25 and picked up two first downs to run out the clock.
"We just had too many mistakes at the wrong time," Brookins said. "And against a good team, they're always at the wrong time."
Central's first mistake came on its second possession of the game and led to a Brady 3-yard touchdown run with 9:12 left in the second quarter. Craft lofted a pass over the line of scrimmage as he was being sacked and the ball was caught by a Eureka lineman.
"I'd give anything to have that one back," Craft said. "It was a poor decision. I haven't done it all year and it happened tonight."
Eureka took over at the Tiger 26 and needed five plays to score. Lake's extra-point gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead and represented the first first-half points yielded by Central in its last eight games.
But Central answered as it did throughout the game.
After two punts and the interception, Central finally broke through with some Eureka aid. A 30-yard punt return by Hicks that ended in a Wildcat personal foul started a Central drive at the Eureka 28. The Tigers needed just two plays to score as Hicks burst up the middle from 28 yards out for the score. Colin Schermann added the extra-point for a 7-7 tie with 4:02 left in the half.
Eureka answered with a 66-yard, nine-play scoring drive on its next possession, capped by a Brady 7-yard run with 1:00 left in the half for a 14-7 lead. A big play on the drive was a 23-yard pass from quarterback Dustin Haradine to Darnell Terrell on a fourth-and 3 at the Tiger 45.
The play would prove to be a precursor to an even bigger gamble in the second half.
Central tied the score 14-14 as it took the opening kickoff of the second half and put together an eight-play, 77-yard drive. Senior fullback Jeremiah Dukes scored on a 21-yard run at the 8:31 mark of the third quarter.
The Tigers then appeared to have Eureka stopped on its next series as the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-one from its own 29. But Wildcat coach Farrell Shelton again gambled on fourth down and saw Brandon Wyms pick up three yards.
"It's something we've done all year long and for years," Wyms said. "If we can get fourth and short and we think is a situation that is favorable, then we're going to go for it. If we would of missed it, I would not of regretted going for that. There was no question on that one."
Wyms pickup became part of a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive, again capped by Brady. His 1-yard touchdown run gave Eureka a 21-14 lead with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
Central answered right back with a 12-play, 66-yard drive, capped by a Hicks 1-yard run with 7:46 left in the game.
Eureka responded with Lake's field goal on its next possession, which began at its own 20. The Wildcats took advantage of two defensive penalties, including a personal foul, to drive to the Tiger 7 before bringing on Lake.
Central had 2:48 left to respond and one of the best kickers in the state in Schermann. Starting at his own 20, Craft then saw his pass, over the middle intercepted by Adam Hicks.
The pass was intended for Dukes, who said he was knocked down on the play.
"The outside linebacker just came around and tackled me," Dukes said.
Despite the loss, Dukes and his teammates found some solace in the progress of Central football in Brookins' four years. As freshmen, Central's current seniors saw the team finish 1-9.
"We finished 10-2," Dukes said. "The only thing this team can do is keep getting better and better."
Said senior receiver Seth Hudson, "To go from 1-9 till now, it gets better than this, but not much better than this. We put ourselves in position to make plays. We didn't, but that's life. We have to keep our heads up. We had a great season."
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