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Rams drop heartbreaker, now 0-2 in conference

By Stephen Ewing
d a lead over the West Sabine Tigers for most of the game here Friday night, only to see untimely penalties allow the Tigers to hand them a last minute 26-22 defeat. The Rams were penalized eight times for 80 yards, but the yellow flags seemed to fly at the least opportune times, particularly on the Tigers’ game-winning drive. The loss was costly to the Rams, as it drops the Rams to 4-3 on the season, but 0-2 in District 10AA Division 1, which leaves them with their backs against the wall in the district playoff race.    
The Rams didn’t get off to a fast start, as they went three-and-out after receiving the opening kickoff. Cole Powdrill’s punt pinned the Tigers at their own 11 yard line, and safety Trey Wilkerson intercepted a long pass from quarterback C.J. Williams to set the Rams up at the Tiger 42. The Rams only needed one play to capitalize, as running back Nate Belrose blasted through a gaping hole in the defense and sprinted 42 yards for a touchdown. Hunter Harper plowed in on the two-point conversion, giving the Rams a 8-0 lead with 8:41 remaining in the first quarter. After the Ram defense forced a three-and-out by the Tigers, Belrose went right back to work on consecutive runs of ten and 34 yards respectively. After pulling up and being tackled at the Tiger 19, Ram fans knew something was wrong when the fierce competitor didn’t bounce right up. After the Joaquin coaching staff helped him to his feet, the trainer diagnosed him with a knee injury, and he would be unable to return to action in the game. After visiting an orthopedic surgeon and having an MRI on Monday, Belrose was diagnosed with a torn ACL and will be out for the remainder of the season. The Rams were able to move the ball to the Tiger three yard line, using a 17 yard scramble by quarterback Wilkerson to convert a 4th and 15 from the 24. On 3rd and goal, Wilkerson’s pass deflected off of the hands of Powdrill, but Case Yates was there to snatch the ball out of thin air in the of the endzone. The pass attempt on the conversion was tipped away, but the Rams held a 14-0 lead with 2:24 left in the first period. A short kickoff set the Tigers up at their 45, and they used six consecutive runs by Demarie Smith to set up an eleven yard touchdown pass from Williams to Collin Dew. Smith was stopped on the conversion attempt, leaving the Rams up 14-6 with 9:05 left in the second quarter. After an exchange of punts, the Rams put together a seven-play, 49 yard drive, using a trick play to pick up 26 yards on a second and thirty. Wilkerson handed the ball off to Nathaniel Retamar, who was in motion from left to right. Retamar then pitched the ball to a reversing Powdrill, who lofted a pass to Wilkerson, who had broken loose down the left sideline. After Harper broke six tackles on a 26 yard rumble to the five, he hammered the ball in on the next play. Peyton Martinez bounced in for the two-pointer, giving the Rams 22-6 lead with only 30 seconds to play in the second half. The Rams attempted a squib kick by Andy Robles on the kickoff, presumably to keep the ball out of the hands of the dangerous Smith. However, the ball spun backwards and went out of bounds at the Ram 40, and the resulting penalty gave the Tigers the ball at the 35. A halfback pass from Smith to Dew got the Tigers to the Ram 12, with only 13 ticks left on the clock. Smith danced around for what seemed like minutes, looking  for a running lane, before being forced out-of-bounds at the ten, with two seconds left. They used the remaining time to complete a ten-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Kellian Weathered. Smith dove inside the pylon to add the conversion, and the teams went to the break with the Rams leading 22-14. 
The Tigers came out roaring in the second half, using runs by Smith and Weathered to break off chunk yardage on a six-play, 78 yard drive. Weathered ran the final ten yards for the touchdown. The conversion pass attempt was broken up, leaving the Rams up 22-20 with 9:23 remaining in the third quarter. The Rams were unable to mount much offense in the second half, leaving the defense to protect a slim lead. When the Rams lined up to punt the ball away, Powdrill’s 38 yard kick set in motion a chaotic chain of events. Smith caught the pigskin at the Tiger 15 yard line. As Yates moved in to make the stop, he was tackled by a Tiger blocker, bringing out a yellow flag. Smith raced up the home sideline, with another flag hitting the ground at the West Sabine 38. Smith would sprint all the way to the endzone, but everyone knew the ball was coming back down the field. After a lengthy discussion, the officials waved off the original holding flag at the 15, instead enforcing an illegal block from the spot of the foul at the 38, leaving the Tigers starting from their own 28 with 9:05 left in the game. They moved to the Ram 42 before the Ram defense made its stand. A false start on first down backed them up to the 47. Defensive end Dustyn Ramsey tackled smith for a seven yard loss, then on second down, Colby Hamilton dropped him nine yards deep. On 3rd and 31, defensive end Regan Hovey and cornerback Jakendrick Smith teamed up to sack Williams three yards deep in the backfield, sending the RAMNATION into a roar. However, a mysterious face mask penalty gave the Tigers new life, as the automatic first down converted a 4th and 34 to 1st and ten at the fifty yard line. They took full advantage of the momentum shift, moving the ball to the Ram one yard line to set up a first and goal. The Ram defense got stops on three consecutive plays, and a false start backed the Tigers up to the six for 4th and the ballgame. Smith lofted a pass over the outstretched hands of a diving Powdrill to Smith for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:11 left to play. The conversion was stopped, but the Tigers had the lead for the first time, 26-22. Consecutive holding penalties foiled the Rams attempts at a “Hail-Mary” pass, and the game was over.
Head Coach Wade Lawson was unhappy with the controversial calls, but nonetheless proud of his team’s effort. “Our kids fought hard all night. We had a lot of things that didn’t go our way, from losing our leading rusher in the first quarter, to a penalty that threw away an outstanding  defensive series that should have won the game for us. I couldn’t be more proud of these kids for the resilience they’ve shown. We’re at a do-or-die point now. Next week’s game with San Augustine is our entire season. We’ve got to find a way to scratch out a win.” 
The Rams were led offensively by Belrose, who ran for 89 yards and a touchdown on only four first quarter carries. Hunter Harper picked up 61 yards, mostly between the tackles, and a score on 11 totes. Case Yates added 38 yards on 11 tries, and caught one three yard touchdown pass. Sophomore quarterback Trey Wilkerson  ran the ball four times for 14 yards, and completed two of six pass attempts for 18 yards and a touchdown. He also caught one pass for 26 yards, from Cole Powdrill, who was on the receiving end of a fifteen yard pass. Defensively, the Rams were led once again by Harper, who made 9 tackles, with one for a loss. Case Yates contributed seven stops, with Peyton Martinez, Brock Lawson, and Cole Powdrill each making five. Wilkerson made four tackles, and pulled down an interception. Powdrill punted four times, averaging 41 yards per kick. 
Elsewhere in District 10AA Division  1, the Shelbyville Dragons (6-0, 2-0) routed the Cushing Bearkats 53-8, and the Beckville Bearcats (7-0, 2-0) defeated the San Augustine Wolves (3-4, 1-1) 28-13. 
That sets up this week’s games, as San Augustine travels to Joaquin to take on the Rams in what amounts to a week 8 playoff game. West Sabine (4-3, 1-1) travels to Cushing, and Beckville hosts Shelbyville in a battle of unbeatens. Kickoff for each game is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday.