After giving up 21 points to Elkhorn Mount Michael during Friday's first half, the Blair Bears forced three punts and recovered a fumble in the second.
The special teams and defensive units played inspired football on the road, recovering a muffed punt and holding the Class B No. 9 Knights to a field goal after they had started on the Bears' 13-yard-line.
“I felt like we played well enough to win and just didn't get over the hump — again,” Blair coach Bryan Soukup said after his team's 24-21 loss. “That's been somewhat the story, at times, this year.”
The Bears dropped to 3-4 in defeat. Quarterback Jason Stewart connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Colin Quick during the fourth quarter, but BHS couldn't otherwise find a cure for their second-half turnover bug.
“Turnovers are a big part of the game,” Soukup said. “We forced some turnovers today, which was huge for our defense, and then, sometimes, we just gave it right back to them. That was the unfortunate part.”
That poor second-half fortune came in the form of two interceptions, two fumbles and a turnover on downs when the BHS punter went to a knee when reaching for a low snap. The latter play set up Keaton Stec's 35-yard field goal make, which closed the third quarter and gave Mount Michael a 24-14 lead.
“The turnovers there in the second half were just a huge difference in the outcome,” Soukup said.
The Bears battled their way back into Friday's game after falling behind 14-0 through one quarter. They scored two of their own just as fast during the the second.
First, backup BHS quarterback Morgan Rump scored on a 1-yard sneak after Stewart had to leave the game when his helmet fell off during the previous attempt to break the plane.
Then, Stewert, a senior, connected with Quick for the pairs' first score of the day. A 16-yard slant pass play — plus Nolan Osterhaus' second successful extra-point kick — evened the score at 14-all. Unfortunately for the Bears, Ben de Mayo's 8-yard touchdown run with just 34 seconds left before halftime put the Knights ahead by a score.
When face-to-face with a deficit, however, Blair stood up defensively.
“It was nice to have Gunnar Ogle back with his speed on the line, stuff like that,” Soukup said. “D-line has been playing very well, shutting down the run game inside.”
In totality, Quick picked up a fumble, Luke Mathiesen recovered the aforementioned muffed Mount Michael punt and the Bears had the ball with 5:40 left down three points. Dex Larsen and Quick had highlight-reel catches Friday, but the last turnover of the game cost the BHS offense more than those helped. Mount Michael took over on its own 10 yard line with 4:51 left and ran out the clock. A first-down run on a 3rd-and-12 sealed the Knights' sixth win of the season.
“We've just got to find a way,” Soukup said. His team will go for win No. 4 on Friday at Bennington.