Paw Paw outlasts fifth-ranked Three Rivers, 14-7, in defensive playoff battle

Butch Hindenach •
	Paw Paw’s Jacob Matheny (6) breaks up a Three Rivers pass to the endzone during Friday night’s post-season playoff at Three Rivers.  The Redskins broke a 7-7 tie late in the fourth quarter and held on to defeat the Wildcats, who came into the game ranked fifth in the state.   Photo courtesy of Scott Hassinger

   THREE RIVERS - October 26, 2018 was a memorable night for Paw Paw football, as the Redskins celebrated a return to the playoffs (first time since the 2014-15 season), AND their first playoff victory since 2011-12, when they defeated Otsego and Plainwell in the post season. Friday’s 14-7 win over Three Rivers was even more thrilling as the Wildcats were  ranked fifth in the state going into the contest.
   The game began with both defenses in control of the line of scrimmage. After a punt, the Wildcats commenced from their own four-yard line, and actually went backwards to the one, where they punted.  Kurtis Carr took the punt to the Three Rivers 23, but the drive stalled.  Still deep in their own territory, the ’Cats  attempted a pass, but Jacob Matheny picked it off at the 31, and returned it to the 10 for the Redskins.  On the first play of the second  quarter, Matheny found Logan Cummins with a short pass to the end zone, and with a Jose Valverde conversion kick, Paw Paw led, 7-0. 
   Mired in their own territory later in the period, the Redskins punted to midfield, and thanks to a pair of pass deflections by Karsen Barnhart, the ensuing Three Rivers drive didn’t get anywhere. But a drive late in the half put the home team in good field position, and just 15 seconds before intermission, the Wildcats, without a timeout, managed to get two plays off, the second a diving touchdown pass with no time left on the clock.
   The two Wolverine Conference teams went to their locker rooms knotted at 7 apiece.
   Paw Paw began the second half on the Redskin 20; a pair of aerial connections between Matheny and Kurtis Carr took the ball to midfield, but the ’Skins were unable to move the ball on the  ground. After three consecutive three-and-out possessions for Paw Paw,  the Wildcats were set up with a first-and-10 at the visitors’ 40 yard line. Once again, the Reds’ defense was equal to the task.
   About six minutes into the final period, Paw Paw finally began to run the ball with some success. Matheny had a 30-yard quarterback keeper, and then found Cummins for a 20-yard gain through the air. Two plays later, for one of the few times all night, Carr found a hole in the Three Rivers defense, streaked 13 yards and over the goal line to give Paw Paw the lead, 14-7. 
   With under three minutes to play, the Wildcats had the ball on their own two, and finally chose to punt from the seven on fourth down.  Paw Paw was set up then on the Three Rivers 42 with 2:12 left to play, and Three Rivers with two timeouts remaining. 
   Matheny attempted to pass on first down, but the result was a 19-yard sack with little time off the clock. The Redskins managed to run the clock to 1:35 after punting, and the ’Cats were on their own 26, now with no timeouts. They managed to reach near midfield before a fourth down desperation pass failed. That allowed the Red and White to run out the clock and a major celebration began on the Paw Paw side of the field, with parents and students waiting for the players to head for the locker room to congratulate them. 
   As has been the case much of the year, Paw Paw counted on its defense to make the big plays, and it once again was successful. The Reds tallied just 97 yards on the ground in 41 attempts, but 40 of them came when needed most in the final minutes. 
   Matheny completed seven of 13 passes for 77 yards and one score, with Carr leading rushers with 50 yards. Among the defensive standouts were Andrew Vorce, Nolan Beck, Matheny, Connor Hindenach, and Nate Harden.
   The Redskins have had a good season, with a couple of bumps  along the way; three of their last five outings were decided on the last play of the night, all Redskin triumphs.  
   The Redskins took the long trek to Edwardsburg Friday for the District finals. The Eddies, currently ranked No. 2 in the state in Division 4, have defeated Paw Paw eight times in a row going into this game.


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