FRONTENAC — As the smallest school in the district, the Caney Valley Bullpups knew they would face a challenge each and every week to close out the regular season. That’s what made last Friday’s 21-20 victory at Frontenac so pivotal in their pursuit of another playoff berth.

CVHS scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and then caught a break when the Raiders missed an extra point late in the contest. That proved to be the difference as the ‘Pups picked up their second road win in Class 3A-District 1 action with the one-point win over the defending Class 4A-Division II runner-up.

Caney Valley bounced back from its first loss of the season — a 34-16 home setback to Galena one week earlier — to improve to 5-1 overall. At 2-1 in district play, the Bullpups are currently tied with Parsons for second place in the standings at 2-1. Coincidentally, those teams will meet on Friday, Oct. 12, in Caney … with the winner in the likely position of hosting a first-round game in the upcoming Class 3A playoffs. The Vikings, who have already clinched their first winning season since 2011, are coming off a 34-6 win over Columbus.

As for Frontenac, it dropped to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in District 1. The Raiders are still alive for one of the four playoff spots from the district with two road games left on the schedule. That starts on Friday when they visit Baxter Springs. The Lions are 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the district following a 69-0 loss at Galena.

Prior to Friday’s contest, Caney Valley and Frontenac had not faced each other in football since the Bullpups were a member of the CNC League from 1994-97. The Raiders won all four of those matchups during that stretch by a combined score of 143-26.

Times have changed a bit for the teams, though, as they were locked in a battle throughout this district showdown on the Raiders’ home field.

The teams battled through a scoreless first quarter before Frontenac took the lead on a 26-yard run by Jake Beckmann. Matthew Simpson put the Bullpups on the scoreboard with a five-yard touchdown run. But with no time left on the first-half clock, the Raiders grabbed the halftime lead on a 45-yard pass play from Beckman to Brendan Ishimura.

That’s where things stood until a back-and-forth fourth quarter. The Bullpups battled their way back with a pair of touchdowns, including a 48-yard pass play from quarterback Trey Richey to Brennan Melchiori just seconds into the final period. Later, Simpson scored on a five-yard scamper into the end zone. Eryk Kyser would add the point-after kick — which would prove huge by game’s end — to give CVHS a 21-14 edge with 6:03 to go.

Just 17 seconds later, Frontenac responded as Beckmann found Cooper Cleland on a 58-yard touchdown pass. The Raiders were unable to convert the ensuing kick, though, as they continued to trail by a point with 5:46 remaining.

Caney Valley had some work to do as it tried to run out the remaining time. After picking up two first downs, the Bullpups were faced with a fourth-and-two with under a minute left. Forced to punt the ball, the ‘Pups gave the Raiders one last opportunity, but the defensive unit stepped up and shut down Frontenac in the closing seconds to secure a big road win in district play.

The Bullpups had 311 total yards of offense in the contest, including 249 on the ground. Two CVHS players surpassed the century mark in rushing — Simpson with 22 carries for 134 yards and Ben Nunneley with 22 attempts for 109 yards.

Frontenac had just six first downs and 234 yards of offense, including a net of 48 yards rushing on 21 carries. Beckmann completed 10-of-20 passes for 186 yards.

(Photo by Sheri Thompson)