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Wallowa’s Cody Riverman, center, looks for running room against the Cove defense during a game Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Cove. The Leopards scored late to steal a 34-28 victory.

COVE — Wallowa appeared to be on the way to nabbing a victory in a tight back-and-forth matchup against Cove.

But in a rough final minute, the Cougars saw the Leopards steal the win, and saw their best player leave with an injury.

Cove’s Patrick Frisch scored the winning touchdown with eight seconds to play as the Leopards escaped with their second win of the season, topping Wallowa 34-28 on Friday, Oct. 1, in Cove.

“Kids firmed up, did a lot of good things,” head coach Jeremy McCulloch said. “Down a lot of starters, (but the) kids fought hard. That’s what’s important.”

With less than a minute to play, Wallowa forced a fumble inside the five-yard line recovered by Sawyer Wentz that appeared it would give the Cougars a 28-24 victory.

But Lute Ramsden, the Wallowa do-everything quarterback and defensive back, suffered a leg injury on the drive, forcing him out when the Cougars took back over on offense. His status moving forward is not yet clear.

The ensuing snap went over the head of Wentz, the backup quarterback, into the end zone for a safety to make the score 28-26, and the free kick was returned by Cove to the Wallowa 38 with 27 seconds to play.

Frisch threw two incomplete passes, but on third down got loose on the right side to reach the end zone for the game-winning score.

Cove then recovered the ensuing kickoff and was able to kneel out the win.

“We lose (Ramsden) at the end or were able to take knees, but it is what it is. We dressed 12 and ended with 11,” McCulloch said. “It’s a tough game.”

Wallowa took the lead, 28-24, with 9:01 to play on a three-yard scoring run by Ramsden, part of another big day by the junior, who amassed 193 yards on 27 carries and scored twice. He also completed 7-of-12 passes for 45 yards. Lucas Hulse and Cody Riverman also scored for the Cougars, who finished with 299 yards of offense, including 254 on the ground.

Ramsden intercepted a pass from Frisch on the first play of the game to set up the Cougars at the Leopards’ 35, and Wallowa needed just nine plays to get on the board, with Riverman scoring from five yards out for an early 6-0 lead just 5:27 into the game.

Cove evened the score late in the first when it snuffed out a Cougar punt fake and, on the next play, got a 29-yard touchdown run by Quinn Hobbs.

Wallowa responded with a 10-play drive that bled into the second quarter and took the lead back on Ramsden’s first TD rush of the day, a scoring on a run of five yards.

Cove scored the next two TDs, with David Creech’s score from two yards out helping the Leopards take an 18-14 lead at the half.

Each team had an empty possession to open the third, then traded touchdowns. Hulse scored on a three-yard run with 4:04 to play in the third to put Wallowa ahead 22-18, but just six plays later Nolan Barton-Needham found paydirt from 12 yards out to put the Leopards back ahead, 24-22.

Ramsden’s second score returned the lead to Wallowa and set up the dramatics at the end.

The Cougars (1-2 overall, 1-2 Special District 3-East) travel to Crane on Oct. 8.

“These are pretty tough kids. They’ve been through a lot,” McCulloch said. “They continue to go through a lot on and off the field, kids everywhere are right now. We’ll rebound, we’ll keep fighting, keep swinging.”

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