SHORT GAP, W.Va. — It was almost predictable, in the final minutes with a quarterback named Marino.
Sophomore quarterback Julian Marino threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Julian Malfregeot with 3:16 to go to give 14th-seeded Robert C. Byrd its first lead, and the defense did the rest as the Eagles upset fourth-seeded Frankfort, 21-17, in the first round of the Class AA playoffs Friday evening.
Marino, a sophomore, went 3 for 3 for 52 yards and Elias Grant had a 19-yard run on the Eagles’ winning five-play, 71-yard drive. Marino lofted a pass over a defender’s head and hit Malfregeot in stride at the five on the touchdown pass. Malfregeot dodged another defender and fell across the goal line for the touchdown.
With the Frankfort defense bottling up the Byrd running game, the Eagles went to the air. Marino, who had thrown for 776 yards during the regular season, completed passes to five different receivers in the fourth quarter and finished 13 for 24 for 222 yards. Colton Bonnett had six catches for 73 yards.
“We have good receivers and Julian does a good job and, especially for a sophomore, has a good touch,’’ said Eagles coach Bruce Carey. “But we would rather run. They were bringing up too many guys and were doing a good job of stopping our power game. They were keeping eight in the box, even when we had wideouts. So you’d be foolish to run when they’re doing that. You got to take your chances throwing.”
Byrd (8-3) overcame a 14-0 deficit to advance to the quarterfinal round. Frankfort (8-3) took advantage of several big plays in the first half to get a two-touchdown lead a minute into the second quarter, but little went right for the Falcons the rest of the way.
“They got the best of us and we made some mistakes that killed us,’’ said Frankfort coach Kevin Whiteman. “In the end, we didn’t make the plays that we needed to win the ball game.”
Whiteman said the game slipped away piece by piece and little by little after Noah Bible’s four-yard run made it 14-0 with 11:20 left in the half. Brady Watson (14 carries, 107 yards), after a 21-yard punt, had charged 37 yards up the gut for the first touchdown, with 2:19 to go in the first quarter.
One of the biggest plays came five minutes later, with the Falcons deep in Byrd territory and appearing to be headed for another score. Cody Nypan stepped in front of a Gage Shaffer pass in front of the Frankfort sideline and raced 75 yards for a touchdown, putting the Eagles on the board.
“The big play before halftime was huge and gave them a little momentum. I’m not blaming anyone; it’s just one of those things that happen in football.”
Carey’s Eagles, because of a 29-yard loss on a poor punt snap, had managed only six yards of offense in the first quarter.
“A big key for us was not panicking,’’ Carey said. “We still stayed with our offense. They scored two quick touchdowns, but we were really playing pretty good defense except for a couple of big plays. I thought we could get back in it, and then Cody made the interception and got us right back in the game. It was real big. It put the life back into our players.”
Frankfort’s defense came up with a big stop just before halftime when Brady Watson scooped up a fumble by Grant at the Frankfort five, and the Falcons led 14-7 at the half.
Byrd tied it with nine seconds left in the third quarter. After a 41-yard pass from Marino to Alex Banko, Juwan Jones-Wright powered in from the 10 to tie it 14-all.
Frankfort answered on its next possession, which featured Watson reeling off 42 yards on a draw play, and Shaffer hitting Seth Logsdon for an 18-yard gain on third-and-five. The drive stalled at the Byrd nine, and the Falcons regained the lead on a 26-yard field goal by Nick Howser with 8:19 to play.
The Falcons defense came up with a big stop three plays later with Tyler Crock recovering a fumble at the Frankfort 46. But a holding penalty on the next play brought back a 35-yard run by Watson, and the drive stalled after a sack by Justin Noble on a third-and-five from the Eagles 49, setting the stage for the winning drive.
“Coming into the game I didn’t expect them to throw that much. But it’s the playoffs, and we told the kids you never know what to expect, and that they’re going to do whatever they can to win a ball game. We just didn’t get it done tonight. It’s going to be a tough one to get over.”
In addition to Watson’s game-high 107 rushing yards, Shaffer completed 8 of 16 passes for 89 yards and Bible ran 14 times for 53 yards for Frankfort. Hunter Jenkins had seven tackles and Crock six. Crock and Logsdon recovered fumbles.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org