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Gaston drops Homecoming tilt with Knappa

football x Greyhounds strike first but then surrender 28 unanswered points
by: Chase Allgood,

Homecoming was unkind to Gaston, as visiting Knappa bullied its way to an early lead on Friday night, then punched in an insurance score late in the fourth quarter to steal a 28-7 Northwest Conference victory.

Knappa (3-6, 2-2) scored on a pair of big plays in the first half - a 50-yard run by Gary Aho in the first quarter and an 90-yard scamper by Stephen Bokor in the second - and led 20-7 at the break. Gaston (2-6, 0-3) held the Loggers scoreless for the first 20 minutes of the second half and threatened to pull within a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but a Ryan Lewis pass was intercepted by Elias Hunsinger near the goal line, setting up a 65-yard Knappa touchdown drive to ice the game.

'We played a really good game. The score doesn't indicate it, but we played with a lot of intensity,' said Gaston head coach Mike Maraia. 'They scored on some big plays in the first half and sort of broke our backs.'

Gaston actually got on the board first to the delight of the Homecoming crowd, marching down the field and scoring on a 20-yard run by Lewis. Jesse Ashwood's extra point kick made it 7-0, but Knappa would rattle off 28 unanswered points to snatch a victory away from the Greyhounds.

As usual, Gaston hampered itself with poor execution. The Hounds drove inside the red zone five times against Knappa but came away with just one touchdown to show for it. Trailing 20-7 with 8:00 left in the game, Gaston sustained an impressive drive and worked down to the 5-yard line. With a chance to make it a one-possession game, Maraia called for a pass play but Hunsinger stepped in front of Lewis' pass and returned it to the 35.

The Loggers then embarked on a nearly six-minute drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown dive by Tevan Klauser, who also ran in the two-point conversion to make it 28-7 and effectively put the game out of reach.

'Our whole problem this year has been execution,' said Maraia. 'It seems like any time we need to make a play, we don't. And any time the other team needs to make a play, they do.'

Ryan Pursley had a big game for Gaston, rushing 22 times for 77 yards and also leading the defense with 13 tackles.

'Ryan had his best game of the season, without a doubt,' said Maraia. 'If I were giving out game balls, he definitely would have gotten one.'

Gaston kept the ball on the ground for most of the game. Andrew Kendall rushed 13 times for 56 yards and Lewis had five carries for 43. Nick Brunswick had seven totes for 35 yards after moving from his tight end position to fullback in Gaston's 'Power I' formation.

'I was really impressed with our guys,' said Maraia. 'They really stepped up. We hit (Knappa) hard. We were still in it right up until the end of the game, we just couldn't finish a couple drives and that hurt us.'

Knappa led 14-7 after Bokor busted a sweep around right end and went 90 yards for a score. The Logger defense, meanwhile, snuffed out a Gaston drive inside the 30 and Knappa proceeded to march down the field, targeting the middle of Gaston's defense. Klauser capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown plunge with 1:30 remaining before halftime.

Knappa's defense did a good job limiting Gaston's offensive opportunities. Lars Gjovik led the Loggers with 11 tackles, while Doug Montgomery and C.J. Thorn each had 10. Hunsinger intercepted two passes in the game.

Gaston now has the unenviable task of finishing the season against top-ranked and league-leading Portland Christian (9-0, 3-0). The Royals have a high-flying offense that is averaging 38 points a game. The defense is equally intimidating, holding opponents to less than 10 points per contest.

'It's a tall order to finish the season against probably the best team in the state, but the kids know that we can beat anybody on any given day,' said Maraia. 'We just have to play the game and see what happens.'

Friday's season finale will kick off at 7 p.m. at Gaston High School.