‘Still here,’ Raiders upend Pioneers on the road
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
It was a loss the Raiders had been waiting a full year to correct.
The Croswell-Lexington Pioneers defeated Almont 41-6 in week 6 last season on the Raiders’ homecoming night, and when this year’s schedule was released with a week 6 rematch against the Pioneers – on their homecoming night – the Almont football team knew its mission.
“We just remembered last year how they came down and blew us out of the water, so we didn’t want that again,” senior Matthew Measel said. “We took advantage of every single opportunity they gave us, stopped them when we really needed to, and made big plays when we needed them.”
Despite trailing 20-8 early in the second quarter, the Raiders managed to recover three fumbles, make big fourth-down plays, and conduct a 23-point swing to defeat the Pioneers 37-26.
“All week I preached to them, ‘Guys, we’re a really good team and we can beat them,’” head coach James Leusby said. “We’ve been at top of the BWAC for a couple of years now, everyone seems to forget about us, but we’re still here.”
The victory not only ended the Pioneers’ undefeated season, but also snapped their 14-game win streak within conference play.
“Give it up for Coach Leusby and the Almont Raiders. They came out with a great game plan and punched us in the mouth. It was what it was,” Cros-Lex head coach Mike LeGrow said. “We had a lot of things that were going positively, but then we’d just shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Cros-Lex was rolling to start the game, marching downfield to score within the first two minutes on a 12-yard pass from junior quarterback Gavin Espinoza to junior receiver Nick Monzo, and after a quick possession, forced the Raiders to punt.
Almont soon got the ball back, however, after back-to-back sacks forced the Pioneers to punt on fourth-and-21. The Raiders then capitalized on the momentum with a 38-yard touchdown from senior running back Matthew Measel. On a successful 2-point conversion, they took an 8-7 lead with 4:25 remaining in the first quarter.
Espinoza had an 11-yard touchdown pass to senior Trevor Soule to take back the Cros-Lex lead, and extended it with a 19-yard run for a score of his own. The Pioneers would lead 20-8 with 7:08 left in the half.
That's when the Raiders began their comeback.
“There are momentum swings for sure,” Almont senior quarterback Trenton Kruse said. “You’ve just got to work to get what you can and when you need a big play, you can count on your other teammates right beside to execute with you.”
A 45-yard touchdown run from senior Tyler Filinger was followed up with a fumble recovery and another Filinger touchdown run, this time from 25-yards out. That put the Raiders back in control, 21-20 with 5:58 left in the half.
The Raiders recovered yet another fumble, this time converting it to points on a 26-yard field goal from freshman Sean O’Neil: 24-20 with 2:35 to go.
But just as the Pioneers did against Armada in week 3, they scored on a last-second play to end the first half in the lead, 26-24, after Espinoza connected with sophomore Cody Metevier in the end zone.
That was the last time either team would score until the fourth quarter, however, when sophomore Chase Battani marched downfield for the Raiders with a big first down followed by a 32-yard dash into the end zone. Almont recaptured a 30-26 lead with 10:32 remaining on the clock.
“I just know that my blockers will be there and the rest of my team will be there for me and [so I ] just run hard,” Battani said. “It’s just crazy to think that I’m starting on defense and offense and contributing this much to the team. It means a lot.”
Almont got the ball back late in the game and knew clock control would be key. With 3:37 remaining, the Raiders were up against a fourth-and-8 situation and left with a decision to make.
“We weren’t really stopping them on offense too much, so we wanted to keep the ball in our hands and control the clock,” Leusby said.
And so, Kruse managed to find Measel for the first down, putting Almont on the Cros-Lex 20-yard line, and with 3:25 to go, he found junior Cole Walton in the end zone. The Raiders would lead 37-26.
They stopped Cros-Lex on a fourth-and-1, getting the ball back on the Pioneers’ 46-yard line with 2:54 left, which would end the game.
“Our defense was well put together by our defensive coordinator,” Kruse said. “He spends hours and hours and comes up with a good game plan and it sure does pay off in games like this.”
Just like last year’s matchup, the Raiders are likely to remember a game like this, but this time, with many more positive memories.
They now stand 4-2 on the season and 3-2 in the BWAC while Cros-Lex falls to 5-1 (4-1 in the BWAC).
“All our goals are still intact. If we win out, we still have a chance at the BWAC, we still have a chance to make a run in the playoffs, so it’s just back to the drawing board,” LeGrow said. “I think we’ll be alright and sometimes a gut check is needed. We got that tonight. We’ll bounce back. The kids are tough and they’ll come back.”
Cros-Lex will return to its home field against Imlay City (0-6, 0-5 BWAC) next week while the Raiders will host Richmond (3-3, 2-3 BWAC).
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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