By PATRICK SLACK
The Royalton football team had just made a fourth-down stop on the first play of the final quarter in Tuesday’s Section 6A quarterfinal against Pine River-Backus, giving the Royals a chance to drive down the field and take the lead.
But the visiting Tigers forced a three-and-out, then recovered a fumbled punt at the 1-yard line and punched it into the end zone for the decisive score in a 20-8 victory.
The game was scoreless at halftime, with neither team able to get on the board until Pine River-Backus executed a 37-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter to go ahead 6-0.
After turning the botched punt into a touchdown, the Royals engineered their lone scoring drive of the game, capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by sophomore Jordan Smieja, who also ran in the two-point conversion to close the gap to 14-8 with six minutes to play.
Royalton’s defense proceeded to force a three-and-out to give the Royals one more chance to take the lead.
Senior Luke Wentland made a juggling catch to convert the first fourth-down Royalton faced, but the Tigers made a stop on the next one, then drove down the field to seal the game.
Junior Tony Gadacz led the Royalton offense with 41 yards on nine carries, followed on the ground by Smieja (37), sophomore Brady Moulzolf (35), senior Tyler Hegna (23), sophomore Austin Popp (20) and senior Jack Fulford (4).
“It is always disappointing for your season to come to an end, especially like this,” Royalton head coach Jamie Morford said. “To lose so many players to injury and just not play as well as we are capable makes this a tougher pill to swallow.”
“We battled very hard against a determined opponent,” he said. “When we were down and out we fought back, but unfortunately came up short.”
Royalton finished the season with a record of 6-3.
Seniors on this year’s team included Luke Wentland, Tyler Hegna, Jesse Finlayson, Matt Presler, Andrew Kroll, Corey Popp, Jack Fulford, Mitch McCallson and Chris Eli.
Pine River-Backus 20, Royalton 8
Pine River-Backus 0 0 6 14 – 20
Royalton 0 0 0 8 – 8
PRB: Loge 37 pass from Howard (kick failed).
PRB: Adkins 1 run (Adkins run).
ROY: Jordan Smieja 4 run (Smieja run).
PRB: Howard 17 run (pass failed).
Royalton—Rushing: Tony Gadacz, 9-41; Jordan Smieja, 12-37; Brady Moulzolf, 10-35; Tyler Hegna, 6-23; Austin Popp, 6-20; Jack Fulford, 1-4. Passing: Moulzolf, 3-12, 50. Receiving: Luke Wentland, 2-30; Popp, 1-20.