ACKLEY - The Cougars and Eagles both made their living on the ground this season.
But to find separation in Wednesday's slugfest, Lawton-Bronson went to the air.
Entering the game with just one passing touchdown on the season and the second-fewest passing yards in Class A, the Eagles used a 76-yard scoring connection between Austin Peters and Brandon Thompson to stave off the Cougars, 7-0, in a first-round game.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
AGWSR junior Sully Hofmeister (30) chases Lawton-Bronson tailback Anteres Ashley in second half action of a Class A first round playoff game in Ackley Wednesday.
Peters' opening-quarter strike was his first TD pass of the year and just his 10th completion as the Eagles (7-3) got a boost from its defense to overcome two fumbles. Thompson found an opening in the Cougars' secondary and raced free to the end zone, sending his team to a second-round matchup against top-ranked West Lyon (10-0) Monday at 7 p.m at Inwood.
"One play, we got caught sleeping," said AGWSR coach Skip Eckhardt, who otherwise praised his defense. "(Lawton-Bronson) might have got yardage, but our boys buckled down."
The ninth-ranked Cougars (9-2) used their aerial attack to move 14 yards within the tying score but Brandon Johnson's crossing route pass glanced off Austin Heitland's fingertips on 4th-and-8 to all but the seal the contest with 1:43 remaining. Blake Sappingfield's second down 17-yard rumble allowed the Eagles to run out the clock.
Lawton-Bronson 7, AGWSR 0
L-B - Brandon Thompson 66 pass from Austin Peters (Zach Cassens kick).
RUSHING - L-B: Anteres Ashley 11-97, Thompson 18-95, Blake Sappingfield 4-20, Peters 5-(minus-18), Team 2-(minus-6); AGWSR: Clay Meinders 22-86 Levi Stockdale 11-27, Brandon Johnson 5-20, Clay Bohner 2-11, Evan Janssen 2-3. Nathan Karjsens 1-5, Austin Heitland 1-(minus-4), Team 1-(minus-2).
PASSING - L-B: Peters 2-3-79-0; AGWSR: Johnson 5-13-59-0, Janssen 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING - L-B: Thompson 1-66, AJ Nitzschke 1-13; AGWSR: Hofmeister 3-35, Heitland 1-22, Karjsens 1-2.
Earlier in the Cougars drive, Johnson kept his offense breathing with a 9-yard dart to Sully Hofmeister on 4th-and-7, before delivering a 22-yard sideline pass to Heitland, moving the Cougars to the Lawton-Bronson 16.
It was the last of three second-half scoring opportunities for the Cougars deep in Eagles territory. Clay Meinders was stuffed just inches shy of the end zone on fourth-and-2 midway through the third after Levi Stockdale pounced on a muffed punt at the 10. Stockdale carried the ball three times for eight yards before Lawton-Bronson's defense stiffened on fourth.
AGWSR saw another chance slip on its next drive when the Cougars 11-play, 56-yard trek ended on a botched handoff on a reverse recovered by the Eagles' Thompson at their own 26 with 5:53 remaining.
"Probably not blocking as well as they came on defense," said Eckhardt of his team coming up empty on the three scoring opportunities. "Dumb play-calling on my part maybe. I'll take the blame."
Meinders paced the Cougars with 86 yards on 22 carries and Johnson completed 5-of-13 passes for 59 yards and ran for 20 more as AGWSR was shutout for the first time all year while dropping their second straight.
Sophomore speedster Anteres Ashley and Thompson, a senior bruiser, combined for 193 yards on the ground to lead the Eagles. Ashley racked up 97 yards on 11 carries and Thompson added 95 on 18 rushes as Lawton-Bronson opened the evening with 11 running plays before their first pass went the distance. Peters connected on two of his three passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles threatened on their opening drive traveling 63 yards before Carson Lutterman pounced on a fumble in the backfield. The Cougars couldn't cash in on the turnover but made another stop defensively, denying Sappingfield on 4th-and-1 at their own 35 early in the second quarter.
On the ensuing possession, AGWSR freshman Nathan Karjsens found a crease on a fake punt run but came up shy of the yardsticks as the visitors took over at their own 41 midway through the frame.
"We did a lot of different things tonight to try to get people spread out, we had them running all over the place - we just didn't make some plays," said Eckhardt. "We had open opportunities that we just missed. Two inches here or there, what happens?"
AGWSR loses 12 seniors that helped key the turnaround from a 1-8 finish three years ago.
"A lot of these seniors (that are) going out bought in," said Eckhardt. "None of them gave up, that's what I'm proud of. ... They're a great bunch of kids."
AGWSR had its nine-game win streak snapped in a 26-6 loss Friday to Prairie Valley in Ackley. ... Lawton-Bronson, which received six votes in the latest poll, had lost two of its last three including a 21-0 setback to No. 5 Hinton in its regular season finale.
The Eagles entered Wednesday with the second-fewest passing yards in Class A (207), while the Cougars are fourth from last (260) in the category. Lawton-Bronson ranked sixth in total rushing yards (2,683), while AGWSR was eighth (2,626).
The Eagles lost to West Lyon 48-7 on Oct. 11 at home.