Saturday, September 16, 2023 | 12:08 AM
Amari Jackson was upset for about 15 seconds and Beaver teammate Qualan Cain felt down for no more than 20.
That’s how long it took them to sprint more than 80 yards on a pair of kick return touchdowns Friday night as No. 4 Beaver defeated No. 5 South Park, 49-23, in a Class 3A Western Hills opener.
Twice, South Park tried to grab momentum, only to see Beaver take it back seconds later with a kick return.
“You have to have a short memory,” said Cain, who broke the game open with an 85-yard kickoff return TD in the fourth quarter. “You’ve got to hold your composure and never let it go.”
Beaver (4-0, 1-0) also added a 75-yard interception return by Caleb Berardeli in the fourth for the Bobcats’ third long return touchdown of the night.
The game went back and forth into the second half, and Beaver’s lead was only five points early in the fourth quarter. But the Bobcats always had an answer.
“We talked about it before the game,” Beaver coach Cort Rowse said. “This is a good (South Park) team. This is a team that’s well coached. They’ve got stud athletes. They’re big upfront. We’re going to face some adversity. But how you respond speaks to how you are as a man.
“Do you let adversity crumble you, or do you rise to it?”
In two crucial spots, Beaver answered immediately.
The first was when South Park’s Troy Cunningham returned a blocked punt 10 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead, only to see Jackson return the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a tying score.
The two touchdowns were scored 15 seconds apart in the second quarter.
“I was pretty upset,” Jackson said. “It felt good to score right after they scored. We had a response for everything they did.”
Jackson scored three times himself, including touchdown catches of 29 and 47 yards. The junior finished with five catches for 125 yards.
The second instant response was when South Park’s Eric Doerue scored a rushing touchdown less than a minute into the fourth quarter, narrowing Beaver’s lead to 28-25. Twenty seconds later, Cain was in the other end zone after returning a kickoff 85 yards for another score.
Beaver led 35-23 with 10 minutes left.
“Special teams really got us there,” South Park coach Brian Abbey said. “You think you’ve got something going for you and then ‘Boom!’”
Cain, a junior, also had 122 rushing yards on 23 carries including a 3-yard touchdown. Beaver quarterback Travis Clear went 7 for 11 passing for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
The victory was uplifting for a Beaver team that returned only one starter from last year’s playoff qualifier.
“I told these guys last year at South Park: ‘One year from today, you will be in that game getting baptized by fire,’” Rowse said. “I went to them before the game (Friday) and said, ‘Guys, here’s the fire.’”
Doerue led South Park with 92 rushing yards and a touchdown. Eagles quarterback Zach Ludwig completed 8 of 16 passes for 164 yards and two interceptions.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for South Park (3-1, 0-1), which had led 14-7 and 17-14.
“We have to turn the page quickly and move on, because Avonworth is next week,” Abbey said. “It doesn’t get any easier in this conference. … We have to look at it tomorrow and see where we can improve.”
Beaver led 21-17 after a first half that included two lead changes and two ties. The teams combined for 24 points in the second quarter alone, when each scored a special-teams touchdown.
South Park was outscored 28-6 in the second half, and Beaver scored the game’s final 21 points to pull away.
“We talk about creating opportunities,” Rowse said. “All we did was earn the right to go play another good football team next week.”
Beaver took a 7-0 lead on its opening possession when Jackson caught a 29-yard touchdown from Clear. The touchdown capped a six-play, 73-yard drive.
South Park answered with a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, ending with a 5-yard TD run by A.J. D’Agostino.
The score was tied 7-7 after one quarter.
In the second, the teams scored special teams touchdowns 15 seconds apart. Cunningham returned a blocked punt or a touchdown, and Jackson returned the ensuing kickoff for another score.
The teams were again tied, 14-14.
South Park’s Kaden Kostelnick broke the tie with a 39-yard field goal midway through the quarter, but the 17-14 lead lasted less than five minutes.
“If you do take away those big plays, I thought we were able to match them pretty well up front,” Abbey said. “At times we did that, but there were too many holes and too many big plays for them in the running game.”
Beaver retook the lead with a 12-play, 77-yard drive, ending with a 5-yard touchdown run by Cain to lead 21-17.
In the third, the teams combined for two lost fumbles, an interception and a missed field goal, but Beaver found the end zone once. Beaver’s lone touchdown was a 47-yard catch by Jackson to lead 28-17.
In the fourth, after Doerue and Cain scored touchdowns 20 second apart, Beaver’s lead was 35-23.
The Bobcats tacked on two late touchdowns on a 1-yard run by Brady Mayo, and the 75-yard interception return by Berardeli.