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Mistakes doom Crater in season-opener

CENTRAL POINT ' Crater didn't make many mistakes in Friday's season-opener against Redmond, but the ones it did make proved to be enough.

A fumble deep in the Comets' side of the field and a botched punt that resulted in a first-and-goal for the Panthers with 1:44 to play spelled doom for Crater as Redmond skipped town with a 16-15 comeback victory.

There's no question we'll take it, said Redmond coach Robby Robinson, whose team edged the Comets 10-8 one year ago.

The Panthers (1-0) appeared in no position to exit Dutch Meyer Field feeling anything but frustration until Crater's fourth-quarter collapse. For the better part of the contest, the Comets' defense withstood the handicap of a short field, while their offense did just enough to build a 15-0 lead.

— But just as Crater appeared to be turning the corner, a strange thing happened en route to victory lane.

The wheels kinda fell off, said second-year Crater coach Rich Cable.

Cody Ponder's scrappy play in his first start at tailback came back to haunt him when, on a second-and-14 play at the Crater 16, he rushed left and leaped in the air with the football outstretched in an attempt to elude the Panthers' pursuit. Upon mid-air impact, the football squirted loose and into the awaiting arms of a Redmond player with 8:45 to play.

It's just what happens in a game, Ponder said of the fumble. I was just fighting for extra yards and I put the ball out there and that wasn't smart on my part. I just wanted to get us the yards when it counted the most.

Ponder, whose 69-yard breakaway score in the third quarter put Crater up 15-0, finished the contest with 121 yards on 22 carries.

After an incomplete pass, Redmond went the necessary 19 yards to pay dirt as sophomore quarterback A.J. Robinson found 6-foot-7 junior tight end Matt Leunen all alone in the middle of the field for a touchdown. Sophomore Marques Hase's two-point conversion trimmed Crater's lead to 15-8.

The Comets' tenuous grasp on victory appeared to grow stronger with 2:23 to go when senior quarterback Nick Rose used second-effort to bull his way for a first down on a fourth-and-1 play near midfield. A holding penalty, however, negated the positive yardage and forced Crater to line up for a punt at its own 39.

Then things got really crazy.

Punter Kyle Lambert was unable to gather in a low snap, and became further displaced from the football thanks to two oncoming Panthers. Crater senior Walter VanRooyen reached the loose football first, but inexplicably turned and hurled the ball upfield in a desperation attempt to salvage the miscue. The Comets were penalized for intentional grounding on the play, then were further pushed back when senior Dan Whitehead was tagged for unsportsmanlike conduct during the melee.

I just lost my cool, said Whitehead, whose 45-yard touchdown scamper helped Crater take an 8-0 lead in the second quarter. I threw a fit and I was really immature about the call and said some things I shouldn't have said. That just can't happen.

The end result of both penalties allowed Redmond to take over at the Crater 5 with 1:44 to play. After a 4-yard run by Hase, A.J. Robinson put the Panthers into the end zone with a 1-yard keeper at the 1:03 mark. Redmond went for the win with a two-point conversion and got it when Robinson scrambled left on a naked bootleg and found Leunen alone in the end zone.

The ensuing kickoff pinned the Comets back to their own 2, and Ponder was intercepted on a halfback option pass by Redmond's Bryan AnDyke to close out the ballgame.

When it came down to the wire, we kinda lost our composure out there, said Ponder. We had it won and were thinking win the whole time ... I don't know ... we'll get 'em next week.

Final outcome aside, Cable said the Comets had reason to hang their heads high following their first game of the season.

Our defense played a helluva game all night, said the coach. They stuffed them time and time again on third-and-short and a couple fourth-and-short plays. And offensively, Whitehead and Ponder athletically really showed up tonight.

I don't know that our kids won't look at a 16-15 as a success, added Cable. I don't, obviously, but the kids know we had it and let it slip through our fingers.

We're scrappy. This won't slow us down.

Crater limited Redmond to 156 yards through the air and only 46 yards on 27 carries on the ground.

On the flip side, however, the Comets managed only two first downs in the second half, and one was on Ponder's touchdown scamper.

They didn't do much offensively except for the one play in the second half, said Robby Robinson. I thought we rose to the occasion on the defensive side a little bit better.

But just as Redmond regrouped for the win, Ponder assures the Comets will be in line to do the same next week against Crook County.

We know we can do it, the senior said of achieving victory. We've got that feeling we can win, we've just got to take it all the way down to the wire next time.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail