By BRETT MARSHALL
OAKLEY — It was just that close.
Two measley points.
That was the miniscule difference between the Oakley Plainsmen's 14-12 Class 2A regional victory and the heartbreaking loss suffered by the Stanton County Trojans on Friday night.
These two teams were oh-so evenly matched, and the narrow two point margin was just the final exclamation point.
"Our kids played with a lot of heart tonight," Oakley coach Randall Rath said afterward. "It was a tough, tough game. They're really fast, but I thought one of the keys was our ability to not let them get outside the tackles much."
The Plainsmen held Trojan quarterback Quinn Kendrick in check most of the night, limiting him to 44 yards on 18 carries. Bret Gum picked up the slack, gaining 118 yards on 16 attempts.
The 7-2 Plainsmen reached the red zone twice — getting to the end zone once on a 2-yard sneak midway through the first quarter by Key Keller, following a shanked punt off the foot of the Trojans' Angel Molina. They fumbled the ball away on their other venture into scoring territory late in the second quarter.
Oakley got its second touchdown at the 4:24 mark of the first on a 35-yard burst off left tackle by Oscar Macias. The Plainsmen, who had missed their first 2-point conversion, were successful on their second, when quarterback Darius Herl found Ethan Plummer on a swing pass just outside the end zone, with Plummer diving in for the PAT.
Little did anyone guess that the conversion pass would eventually be the difference in the game.
After that, the Plainsmen didn't see much of the Stanton County end of the field. But then, the Trojans couldn't find their big-play offense for most of the night.
The only exception came when Bret Gum raced 55 yards to put the Trojans on the board on the first play of the second quarter. But the Trojans misfired on the 2-point conversion, leaving them down 14-6. That's the way it was at halftime when the Plainsmen fumbled deep in Stanton County territory with 1:37 left before the break.
Whatever Stanton County coach Bret Kendrick said to his team at halftime, it must have worked, as the Trojans came out and shut down the Plainsmen offense. Oakley managed just 31 yards on the ground in the final two quarters and completed one pass for 43 yards, but had a drive stalled late in the third quarter.
Stanton County, meanwhile, had its opportunities but couldn't cash in.
The biggest missed scoring chance came on the Trojans' first possession of the third, when they drove 59 yards to the Plainsmen's 3-yard line but then saw Kendrick intercepted by Eric Rucker on a fourth-and-goal play.
"We just couldn't get the ball in when we were down there to score," coach Kendrick said. "We just shot ourselves in the foot too many times. We had penalties, we had people running wrong plays and it just cost us. Oakley's got a good, gutsy team and their kids played hard."
Stanton County scored its final TD with 6:17 left in the game, when Molina tumbled his way in from the 5-yard line, but their second 2-point conversion attempt to tie the game also failed when Kendrick's swing pass fell incomplete.
The Trojans would have the ball two more times in the closing minutes, but couldn't come up with the big play either time. The last time was on a fourth-and-four at the Oakley 45 and another pass fell incomplete with just 19 seconds on the clock.
Oakley's Rath said his team's defense had to play to its strength because his offense sputtered for most of the night.
"We were able to control things up front, it's about the line play tonight," Rath said. "We got into the right alignments against them and managed to keep them from breaking the big play, except for the one. These kids got stung early in the season, but they keep fighting. We'll get back to work and get ready for the next one."
Stanton County finishes its season at 8-2, while Oakley heads on to face unbeaten LaCrosse in the sectionals on Friday.
Stanton Co. 0 6 0 6 -- 12
Oakley 14 0 0 0 -- 14
OAK--Key Keller 2 run (run failed), 6:31.
OAK--Oscar Macias 35 run (Ethan Plummer pass from Darius Herl), 4:24.
SC--Bret Gum 55 run (kick failed), 11:47.
SC--Angel Molina 5 run (pass failed), 6:17.
First downs 11 8
Rushes-yards 46-174 44-152
Passing yards 35 53
Com-Att-Int 5-16-1 2-3-0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 6-42 7-55
Punts-avg. 3-34.3 5-33.6
RUSHING--Stanton County: Pantoja 5-1, Molina 3-5, A. Gum 4-6, B. Gum 16-118, Kendrick 18-44. Oakley: Macias 13-79, Keller 17-57, Herl 9-15, Plummer 4-2, Team 1-(-1).
PASSING--Stanton County: Kendrick 5-15-1--35, Cron 0-1-0. Oakley: Herl 2-3-0--53.
RECEIVING--Stanton County: Cron 1-5, Amerin 1-11, Molina 3-19. Oakley: Plummer 1-10, Baalman 1-43.