LIVERMORE FALLS — Pay attention to Spruce Mountain quarterback Jack Bryant and the Phoenix will turn running back Brandon Frey on you — and that works both ways when it comes to this pair.

But this was a game of two talented and tenacious teams not knowing when to quit. In the end, the Phoenix held the upper hand, escaping with 38-35 victory over stubborn Poland in a hard-fought football opener on Friday night.

“Before we came down, I told them there is one thing: ‘I don’t care if we are down, whatever, don’t just give up,’” Spruce Mountain coach David Frey said. “Play hard.

“This team is capable of doing some scoring. We’ve got good athletes. We got speed. They just didn’t give up and that’s why they won. 

“The key to our offense is Jack Bryant, obviously, because he makes things happen. I mean you’ve got to key on him, and when you key on him, that leaves Brandon open.”

What transpired in the fourth quarter made it almost impossible to know which team would come out on top in this showdown.

The Knights held a 27-22 lead going into the fourth when the Phoenix’s Michael Shaw intercepted Poland quarterback Brady Downing’s pass.

The Phoenix moved to the 49-yard line when Bryant let loose a pass and connected with Frey for a touchdown with 11:46 left in the game. Bryant ran in the conversion, and for the first time Spruce led, 30-27.

“I think the hype of the opening home game really pushed us and motivates us to persevere when we get down and we didn’t give up,” Bryant said. “But we just stuck to what we were doing and believed in ourselves and came out on top. It was awesome.”

Poland showed its temerity and scored after recovering a Spruce fumble. Downing’s pair of passes to Isaac Fifield put the Knights on the 14, where Joe Ringuette scored on a touchdown and the conversion, putting Poland back in command with a 35-30 lead with 6:01 left in the game.

But Frey came through again after he broke free for a 44-yard TD with 2:35 left in the game. The conversion failed, but the Phoenix led 36-35.

“I think it has to be on the seniors,” Brandon Frey said. “We never quit. If it wasn’t for hard work, we wouldn’t be there right now. I want to say I wanted to give it to my line, if they didn’t block for me, I wouldn’t have been able to run.”

Penalties, which haunted the Knights all night, put the kibosh on their response, especially when they tried to move forward from their own 10-yard line. Downing ended up getting pushed into the end zone. He tried to pass the ball, but it ended up in a Poland lineman’s hands. The officials ruled it a dead ball and the Phoenix picked up another two points on the safety.

“This one stinks,” Poland coach Spencer Emerson said. “You get up all week, work super hard, execute fairly well. You kill yourself with penalties and then you end up in bad situations and then the game plan is harder to execute.

“I don’t think there is any question that we are a pretty decent football team. I think we played well for the most part. Third down killed us and explosive plays.”


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