By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Defending Class B champion Laverne staged a second-half comeback by scoring 24 unanswered second-half points to defeat Rejoice Christian 30-20 in a Class B semifinal Friday night at D. Bruce Selby Stadium.
It was the second straight year the Tigers (13-0) eliminated the Eagles (11-1) in the semifinals, but it was not nearly as easy as it was in 2012, when Laverne rolled over Rejoice 48-8.
The Tigers, behind 20-6 at halftime, scored on their first possession of the second half. Laverne, after being outgained 233-99 yards in the first half, came out throwing. Tucker Rolf, who passed for 180 yards, led the Tigers downfield on an 11-play 80-yard drive with Dalton Birch scoring from three yards out to close the gap to 20-14.
But Rolf and Birch were far from finished.
After recovering an Eagles fumble at their own 49-yard line, the Tigers scored on their second play of the drive after being driven back by consecutive penalties to their own 35-yard line. Rolf found Birch on a screen pass, and Birch took it 65 yards to make it 20-20. Birch’s two-point conversion made it 22-20 as the tide had clearly turned in the defending champs’ favor.
“They were coming hard and we thought we would give them a screen and back them off,” Rolf said of the scoring play.
“Thanks to my offensive line, I made a play,” Birch said.
Birch would add a 39-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, going up the middle untouched as Laverne put the game away for the 30-20 victory.
Birch finished with 58 yards rushing and 86 yards receiving in the comeback victory.
Laverne head coach Tim Allen said he told the team at halftime the team needed to respond quickly in the second half.
“I told them we better start playing or it’s going to be over quick,” Allen said. “They hit us in the mouth and we didn’t respond. We came out in the second half and decided we wanted to play some football. We came back and responded well.
“We faced adversity and responded. I am real proud of our kids tonight.”
The Eagles responded by pitching a shutout in the second half and nearly doubling the Eagles in yardage, 242-123.
“We were pretty down on ourselves (at halftime),” Birch said. “But you can’t ever doubt yourself. If your head is down, you are going downhill from there.”
Laverne found itself in a very unfamiliar position early in the game as Blake Fisher scored on a 65-yard run on the opening play from scrimmage to make it 6-0 with just 13 seconds gone.
The Tigers went three and out on the their next possession. Rejoice then went on a 12-play, 94-yard drive capped by Taylor Wise’s three-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal. The Eagles’ scoring drive was highlighted by a 26-yard Fisher run on an inside reverse that gave the Eagles first and goal at the 8-yard line. Fisher’s two-point conversion run made it 14-0 in the first quarter.
The top-ranked Tigers got on the board early in the second quarter on Trevor Harris’ two-yard run on a drive punctuated by Rolf’s 31 yard pass to Tanner Allen to the Rejoice 38-yard line.
Up 14-6, Rejoice kept the pressure on, scoring on Wise’s 1-yard keeper for a touchdown. The scoring play followed a Jace Sanchez halfback option pass to Bryan Mead to the 1-yard line on fourth-and-22. Rejoice took a 20-6 lead into the halftime locker room on the defending champs.
But it was a different story in the second half as the Tigers showed why they are the defending champs, completely shutting down the Eagles for the win and a return trip to the Class B title game.
“It’s great,” Birch said. “Being there once is awesome; going there a second time is even better.”
The Tigers now will face Pond Creek-Hunter in a rematch of last year’s title game. The Panthers defeated Alex 58-26 Friday night in Stillwater in the other Class B semifinal. Laverne topped Pond Creek-Hunter 50-19 in last year’s championship tilt and defeated the Panthers in the last game of the 2013 season, 40-6.
“This feels pretty good,” Rolf said. “One last game … we know them (Pond Creek-Hunter) pretty well, it should be another good game.”