ORION – Jared McNutt believes most high school football games come down to a few key plays.
The first-year Eastland-Pearl City coach can cite Saturday’s 30-3 Class 2A quarterfinal win over previously undefeated Orion as Exhibit No. 1.
“Stopping them right before half is probably the biggest moment of the game,” McNutt said. “If they score there and get the ball back right after halftime, it could be a completely different game. Instead our defense made another big play, and we turned around and stopped them again the first drive after half.”
Trailing 13-0, Orion staged its most successful drive of the first half in the last 2 minutes and 40 seconds. The Chargers (10-1) received good field position after Coby Schultz returned an Eastland-Pearl City kickoff 28 yards to the 45-yard line.
Orion took to the air to drive the ball inside the EPC 10-yard line. On second down from the 8, running back Seth West appeared to have the edge around right side of the Orion line, but he had the ball knocked from his hands and when the scrum for the loose ball was untangled, EPC’s Jarod Kempel had it in his arms.
“That was a huge play,” Kempel said. “It might have turned the game around. Our defense has been the key for us all season.”
Orion received the ball after half, but instead of mounting a drive to pull within one score, the Chargers were forced to punt after three plays.
EPC (11-0) responded with a three-play drive of its own. On third-down from the EPC 23, Braden Smargiassi completed a screen pass to the right to Jayden Kempel, who weaved across the field before finding a lane for a 77-yard touchdown.
“That screen was designed to keep going to the right,” Jayden Kempel said. “But I was cut off from going that way, so I cut back to the left and kept finding space. It wouldn’t have worked if it wasn’t for how many blocks were made downfield.”
The Kempel brothers combined for 339 of EPC’s 364 yards of offense.
Jayden Kempel was a terror in the first half, gaining 118 of his 146 rushing yards. His 38-yard run on the opening drive set up Smargiassi’s one-yard plunge to put the Wildcatz up 7-0.
“We always talk about starting strong,” Jayden Kempel said. “That first drive is so important. Then to follow that up on defense set the tone.”
Orion, which averaged 39.5 points per game coming into Saturday, was held to 192 total yards and had three passes intercepted.
Jayden Kempel scored again in the second quarter on a 9-yard run.
His brother, Jarod, did much of his offensive damage in the second half, rushing for 62-yards on six carries. He had 99 yards total on twelve carries. Jarod Kempel also had a fumble recovery and an interception. He also scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter.
Derek Goodman’s 21-yard field goal rounded out EPC’s scoring.