Bear River struggles to a victory against Center
LAKE OF THE PINES — Despite a less-than-stellar first-half performance and a patchy defense that had trouble containing a determined young Center team, Bear River outscored the Cougars 27-14 in the second half to pull out a 41-26 victory Friday night.
Josh Toft, the Bruins’ junior running back, carried the ball 14 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns, with all three scores coming in the second half. His 12-yd TD run with 9:39 left in the fourth put the Bruins up 35-20, making it a two-possession game.
After Center cut the lead back to nine, Toft scored again late in the game with a 26-yd run up the middle that capped off a 6-play, 63-yard drive. That run, his third and final touchdown, sealed the win for Bear River.
“The line was great, they really helped me,” Toft said. “They blocked really well all night. We ran a few plays before that (last run), which really set it up.”
The Bruins defense, meanwhile, struggled to contain the Cougars at times, despite some strong performances by linemen Dillon Huffman and John Cooke who each had two sacks, some great tackles, and a fumble recovery (Cooke).
“We’d stop them on first, second, and third down, but couldn’t stop them on fourth,” Bear River co-head coach Terry Logue said. “I can’t explain it. Give them a lot of credit, (Center) played well.”
Credit that to Center underclassmen Aaron Castillo, Dejuan Bellaire, and Devin Eldredge, who each had incredible nights and made big play after big play to keep Center in the game.
Castillo threw two touchdown passes in the second quarter. The first came on a crucial fourth-and-goal on the 8-yard line in the second quarter and the second with 13 seconds left in the half on third and 14. On the second, Castillo floated a perfect pass over the outstretched arms of the Bruins defense to receiver Robert Padilla, who made a falling catch at the back pylon, to cut the lead to 2, 14-12, at the half.
Bellaire played well on both sides of the ball all night, and scored a 26-yd touchdown in the third quarter on a great run down the middle to cut the lead to one, 21-20 after Eldredge converted on the 2-point attempt with a quarterback keeper.
In the end, however, the Bruins’ running game was too much for the Cougars.
All six of Bear River’s touchdowns came on the ground with 415 total rushing yards on the night, 347 coming from Toft and senior running back, Sam Houston.
Houston ran for 200 yards and a touchdown (a 51-yard run to outside in the first quarter), despite ending the game early with a second half injury. Sean O’Brien and Jimmy Bamburg each added strong yardage and a touchdown apiece. Johnny Cassar, while he only ran a few times, also came through big, setting up Toft’s final, game-sealing touchdown.
“Running is really the strength of our team,” Logue said, “and Josh has been solid for us all season.”
With the win, Bear River moves to 5-2 overall and 1-1 in the Pioneer Valley League. The Bruins will host Lincoln next week.
Bear River 35, Center 7 — The Bruins won their seventh straight game of the season, extending their incredible unbeaten streak that goes all the way back to their undefeated season last year. Coach Bean, after the game, was proud of how his team was able to focus and come out strong.
“Right from the start, passing was just clicking,” he said, “I’m a huge believer in being balanced as a team, and our running and our passing were great tonight.”
Zack Winter, Andrew Reiss, and Dillon Smith all rushed for touchdowns. Tevyn Kimble and Hayden Macklin each had a receiving touchdown in the win.