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'Dogs get last bite

November 20, 2004|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jefferson coach Richard Mills knew better than to think the game was in hand.

"I never feel comfortable against Martinsburg, unless it's a 14-point lead with 1 second left," Mills said. "Then, maybe."

Trailing by 13 points with 8:40 left in the game - and possibly the season - Martinsburg quarterback Nate Sowers rallied the Bulldogs from the brink of playoff elimination and ended Jefferson's storybook season, beating the Cougars 35-34 Friday in a Class AAA quarterfinal game at Cobourn Field.

The Bulldogs (11-1) advance to the state semifinals for the fourth consecutive year, where they will face Parkersburg, a 36-7 winner over Bridgeport, next weekend at Martinsburg.

Sowers had an outstanding game, throwing for 295 yards and three touchdowns and running for 97 yards and the game-tying touchdown with 1:14 to play.

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The game-winning point came on the conversion following Sowers' score. Jeremiah Johnson nailed his fifth PAT of the night to complete the Bulldogs' comeback.

"I just try to stay focused and block everything else out," Johnson said. "I've made a lot of kicks here. I tried to make that one seem like every other."

Johnson put the game on ice for the Bulldogs on the ensuing kickoff. Trying to kick a line drive, Johnson booted the ball off the chest of Jefferson's Reggie Creamer just 10 yards away. Adam Kee recovered for Martinsburg, allowing the Bulldogs to run out the clock.

"This win ranks right up there," Martinsburg coach David Walker said. "For me to feel the way I felt on the sideline in that game, I know it had to be exciting for the fans."

It was the Jefferson fans who had the most to cheer about early in the game as the Cougars (8-4) jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on the strength of two long pass plays.

On Jefferson's first possession, facing a third-and-10 situation, Patrick Burns connected with Will Grantham on a slant for 41 yards to move the ball deep into Martinsburg territory. Ryland Newman scored from the 1 seven plays later.

After Martinsburg turned the ball over on downs, the Cougars converted another third-and-long as Burns and Grantham hooked up again, this time for 67 yards and a touchdown.

"It's always important to get a quick start on Martinsburg because they can hit you so fast," Mills said. "The trouble is we did let them back into the game eventually."

Burns threw his second touchdown pass late in the second quarter as Brendan McLaughlin got behind D.J. Porter to haul in a 32-yard catch to give Jefferson a 20-7 lead. However, Sam Moore's PAT fell short, which would come back to haunt the Cougars.

Sowers got the Martinsburg offense into gear to close the first half, completing six straight passes - the last to Ryan Miller for a 13-yard score - as the Bulldogs pulled within 20-14 at the break.

"We got some momentum in the last couple minutes of the first half," Sowers said. "We kind of had a lot of breaks go against us that we had to fight through."

Sowers helped push Martinsburg into the lead, returning a punt 37 yards to set up D.J. Adams' 5-yard touchdown run for a 21-20 edge.

But Grantham, the Cougars' most dangerous offensive weapon all season, countered with a 28-yard touchdown run for a 26-21 Jefferson lead, then broke off a 63-yard punt return to the Bulldogs' 7 to set up a Carl Williams touchdown run with 8:40 left in the game.

Grantham finished with over 250 all-purpose yards for the Cougars, who surprised many by making their first trip to the postseason since 1992.

"I hope we have the program on the right path," Mills said. "For the seniors, this is big. We'll have to see how we follow it up next year.

"But you show me someone who thought we would be 8-4 this year."

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