UPPER SANDUSKY - With a shot at a league title and perhaps the playoffs on the line Friday night, the opportunities for Upper Sandusky were there in abundance.
But the Rams didn't convert enough of those chances into points, and as a result, came up one point short of Colonel Crawford, 28-27.
The Eagles didn't secure the win until the final half minute of regulation, when Upper Sandusky quarterback Tylor Pritchard was intercepted by Adam Kotsmire. It was the second time Friday the Eagles intercepted Pritchard, and the fourth time they forced a turnover.
Pritchard threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 175 yards in his final home game.
"He did some great things, and he did some not-so-great things," Upper Sandusky coach Jake Moyer said of his quarterback. "And that's what happens ... that when the ball goes through you every play, and you're expected to produce every play, you're gonna make some errors. I don't care who you are, you're gonna make some errors when that happens."
It was the second giveaway by the Rams in about five minutes. With a little less than six minutes left and the Rams at midfield, down by one, Pritchard wasn't able to handle a shotgun snap and Colonel Crawford's Kameron Landin recovered it.
The Eagles looked poised to put the game away then, netting a couple first downs and melting the clock down under the two-minute mark. But with the ball on the Ram 15 and Upper Sandusky without a timeout, defensive lineman Dylan Robertson stripped Colonel Crawford back Eli Reffey, and Donald Barth fell on it at the 10.
"I couldn't believe that, when we got that fumble," Moyer said. "It was a great play on both ends."
The Rams took over, but after three incompletions, they were staring at a fourth-and-10. Pritchard came through, hitting Kolin Holloway over the middle for 15 yards and a first down. A 7-yard run by Pritchard put the ball at the Ram 32, and two plays later, the senior QB found Barth for 18 yards to midfield. About a minute remained.
On the next play, Pritchard was rolling out, but appeared to slip on the turf, and was marked back at his 43 for a loss of 7. As time ticked away, the quarterback threw an incompletion, then another.
Then came Kotsmire's interception.
"In a big game like this, turnovers are always important," said Colonel Crawford coach Ryan Teglovic, whose team improved to 8-1 and can clinch at least a share of the league title next week with a win over Crestline. "At the end, their guy is trying to make a play, and you can't fault Pritchard too much, because he played his heart out, as did all their kids. But what can I say about our guys?"
For one, the Eagles were relentless. It started on the game's opening kickoff, when Holloway was hit and fumbled the ball. The Eagles recovered, and three plays later were in the end zone when quarterback Nate Klingenberger threw to an open Nick Adams for a 20-yard touchdown.
The Rams came back and tied the game late in the first quarter when Pritchard threw a strike to Holloway at midfield, and Holloway shrugged off a would-be tackler and outran the defense for a touchdown. It went for 74 yards. Holloway finished with 104 yards receiving.
Colonel Crawford went back on top in the second quarter when Reffey ran in a TD from 2 yards out.
Down 14-7, the Rams answered again, this time on a beautiful 25-yard throw by Pritchard to Alex Kenner the corner of the end zone. But in the celebration after the score, the Rams were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. With the extra point try now coming from the 18, Moyer opted to go for two, and Pritchard was sacked by Marcus Garverick. The Rams trailed 14-13.
It became a 21-13 deficit when Klingenberger ran in a 3-yard touchdown with 1:33 left in the first half.
The Rams once again tried to answer, driving to the Eagle 12 with less than 20 seconds left. But on first down, Pritchard was forced from the pocket and ran to the 6. Without a timeout, Upper Sandusky scrambled back to the line of scrimmage, and Pritchard downed the ball with a half second left on the clock.
Moyer left his offense on the field, and Moyer went to the goal line. But his pass, intended for Holloway, went incomplete.
Teglovic said that was huge.
"Big stand just to keep them out of the end zone," he said. "That's what we tell our kids. It's not always about three-and-outs and things like that. When you play a good offense like this, you keep them out of the end zone."
The Rams got closer in the third quarter, when Pritchard ran in a 1-yard TD. But when the Rams tried to go for two to tie the game, they were called for illegal procedure and were pushed back. Barth's ensuing run for the end zone came up short, and the Rams trailed 21-19.
The Eagles lead swelled to nine on another Klingenberg TD rush, and things looked bad for Upper Sandusky, especially when Pritchard was picked by Dylan Gulley.
But the Upper Sandusky defense tightened, not allowing a score the rest of the way.
"I was really proud of the defense," Moyer said. "Colonel Crawford moved the ball sort of at will on us, and all of a sudden, our defense stiffened a little bit. I'm not sure if it's due to a little more conservative approach offensively on their part, or if its how we played defensively, or maybe a combination of the two. But ultimately it resulted in us getting back in the game."
Pritchard brought the Rams within a point with 6:36 left in regulation, running in a 3-yard score, then finding Ross Dible for a two-point conversion to make it 28-27.
The Rams then forced a punt, and had the ball at midfield, when they turned the ball over.
Upper Sandusky fell to 7-2, 4-2 in the North Central Conference.
Both of the Rams losses have been by a point. They were stopped by Bucyrus in overtime two weeks ago, 37-36.
Technically, Upper Sandusky still has a shot at a share of the league title. But that would require a Ram win at Galion, plus a Crestline victory over the Eagles next week.
Considering the Bulldogs are 1-8, and will be coming off a 76-point loss to Wynford, that's unlikely.
Moyer said the key now is to focus on Galion. Beat the Tigers, he said, and you never know what could happen.
Upper Sandusky found that out in 2012, when it was a late entry into the postseason.
"Last year we were in that same position, where we were in, we were out, and we didn't know until after the last game," he said. "So, I think, let's wait and see."
Kenner had 105 receiving yards for the Rams, while Gulley had 113 for the Eagles. Reffey had 100 yards rushing.