David Reeder

Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, “South Pacific,” “ No Time For Sergeants” & “Gigi” were box office hits and Sputnik was circling the globe in 1958. And it was the last year that the Grove Ridgerunners had an undefeated season.

That 50 year drought came to an end Friday night, in Grove, when the ‘Runners’ handed cross county rival Jay a 24-10 regular season loss.

But the Bulldogs didn’t make it easy for their hosts. And despite a pair of long Grove kick returns and a controversial pass interference penalty, the surprising Bulldogs hung around long enough to make things very interesting.

But in the end, it was Grove’s ability to almost completely shut down Jay’s rushing game that ultimately made the difference.

Jay’s Casey Loomis returned the opening kickoff to the 38 and the Bulldogs began their opening offensive series. The Bulldogs moved the ball to near midfield, where they endeavored, unsuccessfully, to convert a fourth down attempt.

But the Ridgerunner defense would have none of it and took over the ball on downs.

Grove was unable to move the chains and punted the ball into the end zone. Jay then picked up back-to-back first downs on 11 and 15 yard completions, but were eventually forced to punt.

Grove’s Braeden Downes fielded the kick deep in his own territory and, using his blockers and his speed, raced all the way to the Bulldog 14. The visitor’s defense stiffened, but six snaps later, Grove QB Corey Davenport (20 carries for 76 yards) got the score from two yards away. T.J. Griffith added the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

The two offenses traded possessions to end the first and start the second period.

Jay’s initial second quarter series would prove to be their longest of the game. Bulldog QB Brandon Edge (7 of 14 for 89 yards) connected with Loomis for a 12-yard catch that was followed by RB Bubba Baker’s 15-yard scamper to the Grove 45. On the subsequent second and 10, Edge found RB Tarrant Buffington in the flats, for a 27-yard pass and catch.

With the Bulldogs knocking on the door, on the 18, the Ridgerunner defense took control. Sophomore LB Bobby Harris dumped Edge for an 8-yard loss on a third and long, forcing Jay to make a decision. The ’Dogs opted for a long field goal try. And Loomis cashed in the opportunity with a 42-yard field goal.

The two squads exchanged possessions to burn most of the second stanza clock. And on their next chance the Ridgerunners appeared to be getting an offensive rhythm.

Moving the chains, Grove marched across midfield. But on a third and short, and 1:30 remaining, Jay’s Kyle Shambaugh intercepted Davenport (7 of 21 for 61 yards, Int.) in the shadow of the Bulldog goalposts.

Using two of their timeouts the ’Runner defense kept the visitors hemmed in and a forced a short Jay punt. With under: 45 to play, the Grove offense took control on the 42 and stayed in the air.

After allowing a 17-yard Davenport to Dustin Gehrke completion the ’Dog defense got flagged for a pass interference penalty. But Jay refused to relent and forced a Grove field goal attempt. With 3 seconds to play in the half, Griffith knocked down his 23 yard attempt to give the ’Runners a 10-3 lead at the break.

Downes returned the second half kickoff to the 39, where, led by a 4-yard sack by the Bulldog’s Delmo Crouch, Grove was forced to a three and out.

Inside their own 20, Jay stayed on the ground and were also forced to punt. Gehrke fielded the kick on his 43 and raced 57 yards for a stellar TD return. Griffith’s PAT gave the home team the 17-3 edge.

The Ridgerunner defense held the ’Dogs to a 3 snaps and a punt and started their next offensive series on their own 24.

And the ’Runners answered by putting together their most impressive drive of the night. Stringing together a dozen plays and moving the chains 4 more times Grove marched to the Jay seven. On the first snap of the final stanza, and on what appeared to be a broken play, Davenport scooted around the right side for a 7 yard score. Griffith’s PAT put the home team up by 21.

Trevor January returned the Griffith kick to the Grove 46. And after picking up a first down, the Bulldog drive faltered, when Grove forced Jay to surrender the ball on downs, for a second time.

The Ridgerunners gave themselves some breathing room when Davenport hit Downes for a 16 yard gain. But the Bulldog defense refused to bend any farther. And with 5:42 to play in the game, January, Jay’s senior return man, fielded the line drive punt on the run on his own 26. Picking his way to the middle, and then breaking to the outside, the lightning quick January galloped to the end zone for a spectacular 74-yard TD return.

Grove deftly covered the onside kick that followed, but promptly fumbled the ball back into the hands of January and the Bulldogs.

Thanks to a 2-yard loss at the hands of Ridgerunners’ Weston Culvey and Stephen Whitesell, to go with Brody Scott’s 4-yard sack of Edge, Jay punted the ball away.

The Ridgerunner offense took control and burned the remaining scoreboard clock to claim their undefeated regular season.

Grove will host Muldrow Friday night at 7:30 in the first round of the playoffs. The winner of the Grove/Muldrow tilt will tangle with Friday’s Elk City/ Star Spencer victor.