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Going into Saturday’s Class 1 semifinal game at Princeton, the Orrick Bearcats knew their secondary would face another tough test. Just one week earlier, the Orrick defense had allowed 325 passing yards to West Platte, and Princeton quarterback Troy Mienke, who threw for 300 yards against the Bearcats in last year’s meeting was looking to repeat his performance this time around.
The Orrick defense passed their latest test with flying colors as they stopped the Tigers 28-6. With that effort, Orrick ran its winning streak to 28 games and will be making another trip to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis to defend its state title in a rematch with 12-1 Thayer Friday at 1 p.m.
The Bearcat defense took the ball away on three fumble recoveries and a pair of interceptions while holding the potent Tiger offense to 163 yards on the ground. Mienke completed just 2 of 10 passes for 16 yards. Orrick Coach Pat Richard said it was key for his line to keep pressure on the Tiger signal caller.
“I thought we played exceptionally well up front,” he said. “I thought we controlled the game and took away their run game and when they threw it we hit the quarterback. We took away their passing game and that’s what we wanted to do. After last week’s 300-yard game, this was huge. The key was they thought they could throw over our heads and they couldn’t.”
Although the Bearcats recorded just 2 sacks, they harassed Mienke all afternoon long. Junior defensive end Matt O’Dell recorded one of those sacks among his 10 tackles for the day and said the entire front line got in on the act.
“Me and Les (Leslee Eubank) just kept them from the edge and our interior three usually does a great job of getting pressure,” he said. “We always have a challenge of getting stickers if we get enough sacks and we just work our butts off to get back there.”
O’Dell added it was easier getting at the quarterback Saturday, than it was one week earlier.
“It was a different type of offense instead of going under center to the shotgun,” he explained. “It’s a little bit quicker getting to him when he’s under center. We just focused on getting back there and taking care of business.”
Richard said his defense put a special effort into shutting down the air attack.
“We focused so much on it this week,” he explained. “We stopped the run last week. They didn’t run on us and we thought we could stop it on these guys. They stepped up. Clayton (Jones) and Jimmy (Bilton) all did a great job of really rolling their coverage and getting in the passing lane and making plays.”
Turnovers resulted in the first two Bearcat scores of the day. Leslee Eubank pounced on the first of his two fumble recoveries late in the first quarter of a scoreless game. Two plays later, Joe Kaufman threw a swing pass to his left where Kalija Rogers grabbed it and raced 50 yards down the sideline for a touchdown with 3:38 left in the period. Orrick would revisit the end zone very shortly thanks to the defensive pressure.
On Princeton’s ensuing possession, Mienke’s throw to the left side was picked off by Kaufman, who then brought it back 54 yards to the end zone. Logan Eubank ran the conversion for a 14-0 Orrick lead with 1:25 remaining in the half. Bilton’s sixth interception of the season ended the first half.
With the defense firmly in control, the Bearcat offense kept the ball away from the Tigers with its steady ground game led by Logan Eubank’s 109 yards on 21 carries, with Kalija Rogers pounding away for 45 more on 13 attempts.
“I thought we did a good job of grinding on them,” Richard said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We don’t have the great speed kid that’s going to go to the house all the time, but we’ve got some grinders that can get to the hole quick and make you tackle them and by the end you’re tired of tackling them.”
Orrick would end the game with 165 rushing yards, while Kaufman would complete 5 of his 7 passes for an additional 60 yards.
Orrick moved the ball 56 yards on 9 rushing plays the first time the Bearcats touched the ball in the third period, with Eubank scoring the first of his two touchdowns on a 4-yard run, and after Leslee Eubank’s second fumble recovery of the game on the next Princeton series, Logan Eubank crashed in from 2-yards out with 3:43 left in the third period.
Princeton added a consolation touchdown with 24 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Bearcat defense refocused and then continued to shut down the Tigers. Jordyn Butler came up with the final turnover of the day for Orrick when he recovered the third Tiger fumble of the day midway through the final quarter.
PHOTO: Orrick running back Logan Eubank crashes in from the 2-yard line for one of his two touchdowns in Saturday’s 28-6 Class 1 semifinal win at Princeton. (Photo by Russ Green/The Daily News.)