MONROE — For most of the game, Monroe and Rogers waged a back-and-forth battle. Neither team gave an inch, and neither team managed to gain much advantage over the other.
Other than one play, that is.
Late in the third quarter, Rogers kick returner LaGrant Pegram fielded a punt at his own 5-yard line — the kick had glanced off his hands, forcing him to go backwards to field the bouncing ball — before dashing through the Monroe coverage team for a 95-yard touchdown return and the winning points in a 14-7 Class 4A quad-district playoff game at Monroe High School.
“We worked all week on punting away from the guy, but he’s just really talented,” said Bearcats coach Dick Abrams. “He just made a great play. I thought the ball was going to go in the end zone, but he picks it up and takes off.”
Faced with a fourth-and-2 from the Rogers 49, Monroe had elected to punt and pin the visiting Rams deep in their end of the field. Punter Gabe Moore did his job, dropping the ball inside the 20, where it bounced off Pegram’s hands and trickled toward the end zone.
But the 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior went back to scoop up the ball, retreated even further as he ran to his right, and suddenly had lots of running room as he headed upfield.
He maneuvered past the last few tacklers and reached the end zone with 57 seconds to play in the period.
“I think we kind of outkicked our coverage,” Abrams said. “It was a pretty darn good punt, but then it just kept going and going. Sailing, kind of. We weren’t expecting it to go like that. And then it takes that crazy bounce and the next thing you know he’s running (for a touchdown).
“It was a great return. It’s tough to tackle a guy with that talent, no matter where (on the field) you are.”
Monroe had four remaining possessions in the game, but never got out of its own end of the field. Two of the drives ended with punts, one ended on downs and the last was stopped by the interception of a desperation pass in the waning seconds.
In the second quarter, Rogers opened the scoring after taking over near midfield following a Monroe fumble.
The march covered 43 yards in nine plays, with the Rams completing a third-down pass for the final 8 yards from quarterback Grayson Madland to running back Andrew Nelson in the right flat. Nelson sprawled into the end zone for the touchdown, and place-kicker Andrew Lettiere added the PAT.
The Bearcats also took advantage of a turnover to set up their first score. A Rogers pass was tipped and intercepted by Moore, a linebacker, with a return to the Rogers 45-yard line.
Monroe moved quickly down the field, with quarterback Mitchell Price completing back-to-back passes of 10 yards to Jake Dimaggio and 17 yards to Dylan Judson. The second pass moved the ball to the Rogers 1, and after two quarterback sneaks were stopped for no gain Moore plunged through the left side for a 1-yard TD carry.
“I thought we played a very hard game against a good team,” Abrams said. “Rogers is tough, and our kids played every minute of it with them. So I was really proud of them. … For the guys to play so hard tonight, I know they wanted to keep playing (next week).”
The Bearcats finished their season with a modest 4-6 overall record, but they can also boast of a Western Conference North championship and a spot in the playoffs.
“It was a good season,” Abrams said. “but it could’ve been better for us with a win tonight.”
Looking ahead, the team had several underclassmen that played key roles this season, which means next year’s team will have a good bit of important experience.
“We have a strong junior class, and a lot of those guys are playing a lot,” Abrams said. “And then we have some sophomores coming up that are going to be players, too. … So I think we’ve got great potential for next year.”
At Monroe H.S.
R—Nelson 8 pass from Madland (Lettiere kick)
M—Moore 1 run (Ohlsen kick)
R—Pegram 95 punt return (Lettiere kick)