JOSEPH — The Joseph Eagles are still unbeaten at home as a six-man football team.
But on Friday, Sept. 3, it took surviving a late fourth-quarter rally by Echo to remain that way.
Jaxon Grover rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns, including a 2-yard run in overtime that proved to be the game winner, and Joseph withstood a massive effort by Echo quarterback Dom Curiel to collect a 39-32 overtime victory in its season-opening contest.
“Probably one of the best games we’ve ever played in four years of being here,” Joseph head coach Duncan Christman said. “This crew we have put it together. ... The kids performed exceptionally well, and the biggest thing from this game is we got the win, we see what we need to work on and we know how we’re going to start the week out.”
Grover ran for 21 yards on the first play of overtime, breaking several Cougar tackles in the process, to get down to the 4-yard line and set up first-and-goal. Three plays later on third down he broke into the endzone to put the Eagles ahead to stay.
Echo, which had just rallied from a 14-point deficit, tried one more time to get even, but Curiel missed on four passes, and Joseph survived.
The late stretch of incompletions was a rarity for Curiel, whose passing prowess helped get the Cougars back in the game late. The sophomore was 23-for-41 for 425 yards and threw four touchdown passes, two to his older brother Javon Curiel.
Joseph had seemingly put the game away when James Burney broke away for a 25-yard touchdown and a 32-18 lead with 5:34 to play, the score matching the Eagles’ largest lead of the game.
Echo quickly responded, with Curiel finding his brother for a completion of 24 yards and Sam Wyse for 36 yards, then hitting Mac Nasario for a 13-yard scoring strike. A two-point conversion kick (PAT kicks are worth two points and run or pass plays on just one point in six-man) trimmed the margin to 32-26 with 2:55 remaining.
Echo got a stop to get the ball back with about a minute to play. After a sack and an incomplete pass, the Curiels connected for 40 yards to the 21, then again for 9 yards to get into the redzone. A wild, penalty-filled play resulted in Echo getting the ball at the 6 with just seven seconds to go, and two plays later — on the last play of regulation — Curiel threw another touchdown pass to Nasario to tie the score. A conversion pass attempt for the win, though, hit off the hands of Javon Curiel, sending the game to overtime.
Dom Curiel was a handful for Joseph from the outset. On the first two plays of the game he hit Javon Curiel for 14 yards and Wyse for 48 to quickly get Echo to the 3, and the older Curiel bulled into the endzone for a 6-0 lead just 30 seconds into the game.
“Dude is a beast. ... He can dance out there. It’s something else,” Christman said of Echo’s sophomore quarterback. “Very good at avoiding the block and getting there and reading downfield. Football IQ on him is awesome.”
Echo recovered an ensuing onside kick, but Joseph’s defense then found its footing. On the first play following the onside kick, Harley Miller sacked a scrambling Curiel for a loss of 22 yards, forced a fumble and recovered the fumble all in one fell swoop to change the tone of the game.
“Just some little personnel adjustments,” Christman said. “... It ended up working in our favor to make some switches and bring in some new blood and really get a hold on the game.”
On the next possession, the defense got Joseph on the board.
After three completions and a penalty got Echo moved down to the 9-yard-line, Kale Ferguson sacked Curiel for a loss of 12 yards. On the next play, Miller dropped the quarterback — who fumbled the ball attempting to throw it away — and Ferguson scooped it up and went the other way for a 55-yard touchdown to tie the score at 6-6.
“Between the two of them, you are probably looking at two defensive players of the year,” Christman said of Ferguson and Miller. “They’re going to destroy it.”
Seemingly now in control, the defense backed Echo up and ultimately, Jesse Larrison sacked Curiel in the endzone for a safety and an 8-6 lead. On the next offensive series, Grover broke free for his first score of the day — a 19-yard run — for a 14-6 advantage late in the opening quarter.
He again scored midway through the second, this time from five yards out, to cap a nine-play drive and give Joseph a 20-6 lead.
“He didn’t come out as a freshman, but he came out this year as a sophomore and immediately took a roll and just has been putting it to it. It’s like he hasn’t missed a beat,” Christman said of Grover. “He’s crushing it.”
The Curiels connected for a 16-yard score just before the break to get back within 20-12 at halftime.
A 3-yard Miller run and a 21-yard Javon Curiel reception were the scores for the respective teams in the third quarter, which ended with Joseph ahead 26-18 and set the stage for a wild final few minutes.
While Curiel had moments where he picked Joseph’s defense apart, the Eagles also responded in kind often, sacking the quarterback seven times — five in the first half — and recovering the two fumbles and grabbing an interception, which Grover collected to set up Joseph’s fourth-quarter touchdown. Grover also had one of three fumble recoveries for Joseph. Miller had three of the sacks and Ferguson recorded two.
The Eagles’ primary source of offensive success was on the ground. Grover’s big day was part of a 215-yard effort in the running game for Joseph. Trace Collier was 6-for-10 for 48 yards passing, with Grover having four receptions for 29 yards.
The Cougars’ strong effort through the air was offset by a ground attack that netted minus-37 yards on the night, largely due to the seven sacks of Curiel resulting in a loss of 79 yards.
Javon Curiel had 12 catches for 206 yards, and Wyse added six catches for 147 yards. All told, Joseph won despite being outgained by Echo 388-263.
The Eagles (1-0 overall) host South Wasco County Friday, Sept. 10, in an early matchup between arguably the two best teams in the now four-year, six-man resurgence. The teams have met four times in the last three seasons, splitting the contests 2-2. The Redsides won in the spring 45-0, and are the only team to hold Joseph under 30 points in six-man play.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.