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GREAT FALLS - Great Falls High football coach Kenneth Schofield said before his team's second- round playoff game against McBee, that a win would get his team three more practices.
"Nothing else is really assured," Schofield said.
Not only did GFHS's 24-0 win Friday earn the team those three practices, by virtue of top-seeded Whitmire's loss to Ridge Spring-Monetta, it also got the Red Devils a Class A Division II Upper State title game at home Friday.
"This feels great," said linebacker Isaiah Lynn. "Ridge Spring has to come here."
Great Falls took an early lead on Conference III-A rival McBee thanks to a big play in the passing game. On the Red Devils' second possession and facing third and 11 from their own 7, quarterback Gaither Bumgardner rolled to his right and hit tight end Brandon Crawford in stride, who had shaken his defender. Crawford dashed untouched to the end zone to complete the 93-yard scoring strike. Kyle Heffner added the extra point for a 7-0 score with 3:35 left in the first period.
For the rest of the half, the Devils stopped McBee, holding them to just 41 total yards, and stopped themselves with two turnovers and five penalties.
"We worked on turnovers all week," Schofield said. "That's something you can't do this time of year. The further you go, the bigger the stakes become."
Great Falls fumbled the second-half kickoff, giving the Panthers excellent field position at the GFHS 37. As it did all night, the Great Falls defense answered the challenge, pushing McBee back and forcing a punt.
"I just told everybody to keep their heads up," Lynn said.
When Great Falls got the ball back, they pieced an eight-play, 56-yard drive. North-South All-Star Jeremy Simpson had three big runs, taking an option pitch from Bumgardner for 23 yards, running a misdirection play for an 11-yard gain and bouncing outside for an 11-yard scoring run that gave his team a 14-0 lead five minutes into the third quarter. Simpson ran for 99 yards on the night.
The score held until midway through the fourth when the Devils marched 58 yards in nine plays for another touchdown. Cedric Spence was the workhorse this time, running twice for 26 yards to move his team inside the 10. He capped the drive, leaping over the Panthers' defense from a yard out for a 21-0 Great Falls lead.
The final score came with three minutes left when Heffner booted a 34-yard field goal for the 24-0 win.
Great Falls' stingy defense only allowed McBee 65 yards offense. Jerome Culp had 2.5 sacks, Lynn had one and added several tackles-for-a-loss. Crawford snared two passes for 117 yards.
Schofield said he was proud of the team's progress, going from a 4-7 record in 2004 to a 10-win campaign this fall.
"It's kind of remarkable when you consider where we started," Schofield said. "It's a real tribute to the work of our young men and our assistant coaches."
Schofield lauded Joc Dye and Ledaun Smith, who subbed for offensive-defensive lineman Josh Lynn, who missed the game.
The win improves Great Falls to 10-2 and moves the Devils to the Division II Upper State title game Friday. GFHS hosts Ridge Spring-Monetta, which advanced with a 30-24 road win over Whitmire.
The Devils get the Trojans, and as Schofield noted three more practices.
Editor's note: Travis Jenkins is the sports editor for the Chester News & Reporter, a sister paper of The Lancaster News. Landmark Community Newspapers Inc. owns both newspapers.