BROOKVILLE — From the gut punches with earlier-day news that the Brookville Raiders wouldn’t have some key players in the lineup in their District 9 Class 2A Championship game against Karns City last Friday night to what happened at the end, it doesn’t get much tougher than that.

Fielding a 23-man roster and dealing with a much different Karns City team that the first meeting’s 44-0 rout at home back in late September, a title run wasn’t meant to be for head coach Scott Park’s Raiders.

The Gremlins flipped that lopsided loss around into a dramatic 16-14 win when kicker Owen Colwell’s 27-yard field goal with 4.7 seconds left. The victory at a chilly Varischetti Field claimed the District 9 Class 2A title, the team’s first crown since 2017.

The stunned Raiders were left empty-handed, still looking for their first title since 2006, their season suddenly over at 7-1.

Still, all of it left Park very proud of his team’s performance despite the deep adversity.

“To do what those kids did with 23 kids and to be in a ball game we knew was going to be a dog fight with a full roster, they have to be commended,” Park said Sunday night, still emotional from his team’s loss on Friday. “I don’t know if there’s another team in District 9 that could’ve taken a day and the hits we had earlier Friday and come close to winning a district title.

“I guess we’re lucky we got to play because it could’ve easily been us not playing, but thing is, it hurts.”

The Raiders led 14-7 at halftime, but couldn’t get that vital two-TD lead on the Gremlins. That could’ve put the game away considering that the Gremlins relied heavily on their running game. In the first blowout win, the Raiders intercepted them six times. This time around, quarterback Eric Booher completed just 1 of 7 passes for two years.

“That last game was just an awful game and we knew that wasn’t our football team that night,” said Gremlins coach Joe Sherwin, whose team avenged a regular-season loss to Central Clarion in last week’s semifinals. “We just had a lot to overcome. (Brookville) is a great football team and to hold them to 14 points is an incredible defensive effort. We’re just playing a lot better defense than that first game so credit to our guys for sticking with what we’re trying to teach them and they’re continuing to get better throughout the season.”

It all came down to a game-winning field goal drive set up by another defensive stop where Zach Blair sacked Raiders quarterback Jack Krug for a 7-yard loss to give the Gremlins the ball at their own 42 with 5:48 left in the game.

It took 12 plays, all of them runs to get the Gremlins to where Sherwin wanted to set up Colwell’s field goal. The big play of the drive was Kaden Scherer’s 10-yard run on fourth-and-three from the Raiders’ 22.

“We had that fourth down play with the ball at the 22, so I felt that was a little too deep for him,” Sherwin said. “I thought anything 15-yard line and he was good and, and he proved it he was.”

Karns City (6-2) visits D10 champion Wilmington in Friday night’s state playoff opener.

“All the credit goes the kids and my coaching staff, they did a great job and we’re just looking to continue on making our season longer,” Sherwin said.

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It wasn’t just Friday that the Raiders endured. From their previous game, a Ridgway player reported with COVID-19 and after contact tracing it was ruled that the Raiders could continue without any players needing quarantining. However, Friday afternoon, school officials were notified of two players — Brookville Athletic Director Dave Osborne noted that the two infected players were junior varsity — tested positive and then 10 other players were ruled out for the game later in the day.

Park said that the coaching staff was working on special teams changes in the locker room at Brockway just before the game.

The Gremlins did a good job defensively, balancing good coverage in the secondary with pressure on Krug in the backfield with obviously one setting up the other. Krug completed 20 of 31 passes for 170 yards with a touchdown and interception while getting sacked five times, by far the most in a game all year. A running threat as well, the Gremlins limited him to 15 yards on 15 attempts which included the sack yardage.

Karns City threw just seven passes with Eric Booher completed one for just two yards. What didn’t happen like the first time around was the Raiders didn’t have six interceptions. Instead, the Gremlins marched off 243 yards on 48 carries with Scherer leading the group of runners with 86 yards on four carries.

Scherer’s 65-yard TD run off a jet sweep play put the Gremlins up 7-6 in the second quarter. Also for the Gremlins, Cole Coon ran for 65 yards on 12 carries and Luke Garing went for 64 yards on 15 carries, scoring the Gremlins’ other TD on a 1-yard run late in the third quarter.

After the Gremlins fumbled away their first possession at Raiders’ 47, the Raiders turned it into points on their first drive of the game, 11 plays covering 53 yards. Krug hit Robert Keth for 12 yards on a fourth-and-nine play and then on fourth-and-17 at the 19, Krug hit Keth again for a touchdown. The point-after kick missed at the 4:39 mark of the opening quarter.

Karns City fumbled a fourth-down snap on fourth-and-one at the Gremlins’ 31 on its next drive and Booher was stopped short of the first down.

However, the Gremlins stopped the Raiders on their next drive when Mason McNany sacked Krug and caused a fumbled that was recovered by Cole Hilliard at the Gremlins’ 35. Two plays later, Scherer blasted down the Raiders sideline for the touchdown and Colwell’s point-after kick gave the Gremlins a 7-6 lead with 8:52 left in the second quarter.

Brookville scored its final points on the next drive, going 87 yards on 11 plays with Keth plowing in from one yard out. Keth added a two-point conversion run and the Raiders led 14-7 at the 5:26 mark of the second.

From there, the Raiders managed just three first downs and Gremlins kept on plugging away, taking advantage of good field position to score their second touchdown. It took just four plays to go 24 yards after getting a punt return deep into Raiders territory.

Garing’s 1-yard run got the Gremlins to within 14-13 with 1:02 left in the third, but the Gremlins tried a trick play for a two-point conversion and it was snuffed out.

Karns City fought off a special teams disaster when it fumbled away a punt return to give the Raiders the ball at the Gremlins’ 29 early in the fourth quarter, but the Gremlins stopped the Raiders on downs at the 23, stuffing Keth for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-three.

“We had opportunities, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen,” Park said.

The Gremlins went nowhere on their next possession, but managed to hold the Raiders as well to set up the game-winning drive.

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