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Fourth-quarter meltdown dooms Gaston to non-conference loss

football -- Greyhounds give away 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, then lose in overtime against Neah-Kah-Nie

In what is rapidly becoming a recurring story line for the Gaston football team, the Greyhounds fell apart in the fourth quarter and dropped a heartbreaking 38-36 decision to Neah-Kah-Nie in overtime Friday night.

Gaston (1-3) led 30-8 at the end of the third quarter, but the wheels came off in a seemingly neverending series of mental mistakes and physical gaffes. The Hounds turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter, then had to sit back and watch as Neah-Kah-Nie (1-3) roared back to life, scoring 22 unanswered points to tie the game and force overtime.

In the extra session, Neah-Kah-Nie forged ahead 38-30 on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Will Latter to Adam Stockton - the third time the duo hooked up in the game - and a two-point conversion run by Taren Keesey.

Gaston responded on its second offensive play with a 25-yard touchdown pass of its own from Ryan Lewis to Parker Bolden, but the Pirates were able to break up a pass intended for Josh Briedenbach on the conversion attempt, ending the game and capping a huge comeback.

'The kids were heartbroken,' said Gaston head coach Mike Maraia. 'It was a rough game.'

The visiting Pirates very nearly won the game in regulation, but Gaston stuffed a two-point conversion attempt on Neah-Kah-Nie's final touchdown with 1:09 remaining.

Still, Maraia was left searching for answers after his team fumbled away possession once and threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter to essentially give the game away.

'We were in control most of the game, but those turnovers just killed us,' he said. 'We played great for three quarters again, but we can't put together a whole game. I don't know what's going on. It's a habit we need to break before league play starts.'

Maraia was miffed in particular about a third-down conversion that blew up in the Hounds' face late in the fourth quarter.

Still clinging to a 30-24 lead and facing third-and-four at the Neah-Kah-Nie 25-yard line with 2:15 left, Maraia called a pass play that required Lewis to hit Bolden on a short slant route across the middle.

'The slant was open all day,' said Maraia. 'I figured we'd run a quick slant, get the first down and then run out the clock.'

Instead, the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and Keesey snatched it out of the air, rumbling 40 yards in the other direction and setting up a game-tying 3-yard touchdown run by Latter with a shade over a minute left.

'If we get that first down, the game's over,' said Maraia.

A lot of other things went wrong for Gaston, however. Staked to a 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Hounds let Stockton get behind the defense for a 32-yard touchdown reception. After a Gaston turnover, Stockton was back at it, this time hauling in an 18-yard scoring strike from Latter that cut the Hounds' lead to 30-24.

'The final score should have been 40-something to eight,' said Maraia. 'We just lost our momentum and couldn't get it back.'

The Hounds seemed to have plenty of momentum, taking a 15-8 halftime lead and stretching it to 30-8 by the end of the third quarter.

Lewis ran in a touchdown from 3 yards out in the first quarter to make it 7-0, and he hit Briedenbach on a 6-yard touchdown pass before halftime to make it 15-8. Andrew Kendall had a 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and Ryan Pursley busted a 17-yard scoring scamper to put Gaston ahead by 22 heading into the final stanza.

After that it was deja vu for the Greyhounds, who gave up 27 unanswered points to Vernonia in the fourth quarter of a Sept. 8 loss and 34 unanswered points to Sheridan during a 42-8 loss on Sept. 22.

'We need to step up and stop making so many mistakes,' said Maraia. 'We're shooting ourselves in the foot.'

Lewis led the Gaston ground game with 91 yards rushing, while Pursley added 75 and Kendall chipped in 67. Lewis went 7-for-15 through the air for 135 yards and two touchdowns, but he was also intercepted twice. Bolden caught five passes for 85 yards.

Neah-Kah-Nie, meanwhile, crippled the Gaston defense with the bruising running of Keesey, who went over 200 yards on the day. Latter threw just five passes all night, but three of them went for touchdowns - all to Stockton, a junior wideout.

'We have to really concentrate this week,' said Maraia, as the Hounds prepare to open Northwest Conference play on the road against Nestucca (4-1) on Friday. 'I think we lose our focus. That's what makes us make mistakes.

'I'm hoping we can figure it out. If we don't figure it out, it's going to be a long season.'