Coach Steve Turner said last week there are three steps in preparing his Cowboys for the Intermountain Conference opener Sept. 28 at Pendleton: Illinois Valley, Crater and North Eugene.
>football against Illinois Valley
In order, the list consists of the squad's first three games of the season, all non-league.
After Crook County's performance in its opener Friday night, the Cowboys have one step down, two to go.
With just less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, Crook County junior Ty Sharp sacked Illinois Valley sophomore quarterback Mike Pagnotta on fourth down, halting a Cougar drive which ended at the Cowboy 20-yard line and more importantly denying the go ahead touchdown.
The sack returned possession to the Cowboys (1-0 overall), allowing CCHS sophomore quarterback Chad Swindle to take a knee, putting a 33-30 victory in the win column for visiting Crook County.
The Cowboys led 27-16 at the half, but Illinois Valley (0-1 overall) grabbed ahold of a 30-27 lead late in the final quarter, before CCHS sophomore fullback Matt Bliss used a 12-yard run with 3 minutes and change to put his team ahead for good.
"I was really happy with the way we played with the game on the line," Turner said. "We got a win and we came from behind to do it. That shows team character and team unity."
Coach Turner's team took an early 7-0 lead after a 25-yard run by 6-foot-0, 180-pound senior tailback Jamie Swindle. With the protection of the CCHS offensive line, Swindle ended the night racking up 166 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carriers.
The first Illinois Valley possession caused trouble for the Cougars. After a holding call wiped out a 30-yard run, Illinois Valley was forced to punt and things only got worse from there.
The snap flew over the head of the Cougar punter, forcing Illinois Valley to fall on the ball inside the Cowboy 5-yard line, setting up the second Crook County score of the night, a 3-yard run by Bliss, his first of two touchdowns. Crook County was up 14-0 still in the first quarter.
"We dug ourselves in a hole real quick," said Neil DeForrest, Illinois Valley head coach. "Instead of driving the ball like we were to tie it up or possibly go ahead, we had a penalty that knocked us back, then we had to punt, then we had the snap and the next thing we know we're down 14 zip."
The Cougar offense scored in the first quarter on a 21-yard interception run by Pagnotta, giving Illinois Valley eight points with the two-point conversion to make the score 14-8.
The Cougars were led by the double-wing offense of senior 6-foot-1, 199-pound Jon Pope and senior 5-foot-8, 150-pound David Crocker. Pope ended the night with 25 carries and 128 yards with two scores, while Crocker was credited with 100 yards rushing on 14 carries.
In the second quarter, the Cowboys scored on a 5-yard run by Jamie Swindle. Pope responded for Illinois Valley with a 3-yard touchdown run of his own, but a 14-yard touchdown pass from Chad Swindle to Colt Conley gave the Cowboys the 11-point lead at the half.
"We moved the ball pretty well," Turner said. "We scored on five of six possessions."
Chad Swindle ended the day completing six of 10 passes for 74 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while Pagnotta led the Cougars with a five of nine performance for 31 yards and one score.
Senior Adam Barney turned in two receptions for 18 yards for the Cowboy receiving corps, while Jamie Swindle caught one pass for 22 yards. Junior Brad Hunter, junior Mike Tracy and Conley each finished the night with one reception for more than 10 yards.
After Crook County kicked off after the half, the Cougars switched from playing football to playing keep-away. Illinois Valley used 24 plays and the entire third quarter to go 65-yards, ending with a Pagnotta 1-yard run to make the score 27-24 Crook County just seconds into the fourth quarter.
"Our offense is not a quick, scoring offense, it can be, but by nature it's just something where we're going to grind it out and the longer we hold onto the ball, obviously they don't have it and they can't score," DeForrest said.
"That third quarter was a prime example."
The Cowboys used Bliss' late touchdown run to stop the Illinois Valley comeback and secure the opening win for the 2001 season.
"I think we're all pretty confident," Turner said. "But we also need to improve. We need to get our shoulder pad level down. We played way too high."
Next up for the Cowboys is the home opener Friday against Crater. Game time is at 7 p.m.