During a recent meeting, the Prairie football team realized it only had some 60 hours left of playing and practicing together in the final two weeks of the regular season.
For some of the Falcons’ seniors, those hours could be their last-ever experience playing the game.
The stakes of Friday’s game against Evergreen — a loss eliminating the Falcons from playoff contention — served as a source of motivation to make a late-season push.
“We came together and just said, ‘Let’s finish this season strong,’ ” junior running back and linebacker Pierson Lameh said. “For our seniors, we just got to do it for them.”
Their hopes of finishing the season on a positive, and perhaps even extending it beyond Week 9, were kept alive in a 13-6 win over Evergreen at McKenzie Stadium.
The Plainsmen (6-2, 2-1 3A GSHL) can still clinch a share of the league title with a win next week against Kelso, but a loss could lead to a scenario where Prairie (5-3, 1-2), Evergreen and Mountain View are all tied for second place.
The Falcons’ defense forced four turnovers (three fumbles, one interception) and turned Evergreen over on downs four times on a rainy afternoon that challenged both teams to hold on to the ball.
Prairie lost senior running back Alex Ford, the team’s leading rusher, to an injury in the opening quarter, yet still rushed for more than 200 yards between Lameh, Preston Hill, Colby Majewski and junior quarterback Braeden Slamp.
“It’s just next man up,” Lameh said of the team’s mindset. “You got to feel for Alex, it’s his senior year, he’s an awesome player, one of the best players I’ve ever played with. But, it’s a next-man-up mentality. You just got to be ready to go. Don’t be nervous, just go out there and play.”
Slamp’s touchdown pass to Aidan Miller with 21 seconds left in the second quarter put Prairie ahead 7-0 before Evergreen’s Jonathan Landry returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to get the Plainsmen within 7-6 at halftime.
It was part of a herculean effort for the Plainsmen senior cornerback, receiver and return man, who also had an interception, two tackles for loss plus a combined 129 yards receiving and rushing.
However, Evergreen fumbled a handoff on its first play of the third quarter, which Prairie recovered and turned into an 8-play touchdown drive, all run plays to Lameh and Slamp, ending in a Slamp rollout and scramble for a 5-yard score less than four minutes into the third quarter.
Evergreen started the fourth quarter with a long LaDaimien McCord punt return that got the Plainsmen inside Prairie’s 10-yard line, but turned the ball over on downs.
Evergreen’s final possession, following a Prairie turnover on downs with 3:40 remaining, was halted when Prairie’s Bryce Phillips picked off a pass. Three first downs later, the Falcons were able to kneel out the clock.
“This is what we wanted to do all season,” Lameh said. “Just be that team that doesn’t let them score on defense and I’m telling you, we got so close so many times on offense. … We’re so close to putting it all together.”
Prairie suffered a three-game losing streak near the midway point of the season before snapping the skid last week against Corvallis (Ore.)
The turning point for the Falcons, Slamp said, came after their 37-27 loss against Mountain View on Oct. 7 to drop to 0-2 in the 3A GSHL.
“It really came down to us playing for each other, not ourselves,” he said. “And once we did that, we realized we can beat any team we’ve lost to.
“That’s when we realized, we really need to step up our game if we want to go to the playoffs. For all these guys, it was a we-have-nothing-to-lose moment.”
Prairie will play host to Heritage in its final regular season game next week. While everything outside of that game is out of the Falcons’ control, they know what they’re playing for.
“We just realized to not take it for granted, for the seniors especially,” Slamp said.
PRAIRIE 13, EVERGREEN 6
Prairie 0 7 6 0—13
Evergreen 0 6 0 0—6
P — Aidan Miller 32 pass from Braeden Slamp (Ashton Fergason kick)
E — Jonathan Landry 85 kickoff return (kick blocked)
P — Slamp 5 run (kick blocked)
RUSHING — Prairie: Pierson Lameh 13-78, Preston Hill 9-33, Slamp 8-58, Colby Majewski 6-23, Alex Ford 4-(minus 1), Miller 3-26, Team 2-(minus 10). Evergreen: Mark Williams Jr. 6-15, Jayden Crace 10-(minus 1), Shaudez Grant 4-20, Landry 3-49, Khalil Osbin 1-(minus 9).
PASSING — Prairie: Slamp 11-19-1-82. Evergreen: Crace 6-7-0-75, Osbin 3-8-1-31.
RECEIVING — Prairie: Miller 6-55, Ethan Cabral 2-5, Alex Juhl 2-1, Brayden Petrowski 1-11. Evergreen: Landry 5-80, Anthony Lamberth II 3-24, LaDaimien McCord 1-2.