By Jody Korch
STEPHENSON - Six weeks into the season the Bark River-Harris Broncos hit their stride, and the timing was terrible for the Stephenson Eagles.
BR-H spoiled Stephenson's homecoming with a 32-24 victory at the Herbert Corey Complex Friday night.
"I'm proud of the fact we beat a good football team tonight," Broncos coach Al Stenberg said.
Stenberg took over as coach just before the season started, installed a new offense, and the Broncos struggled through a 1-4 start before Friday.
"Anytime you're running a new offense there's gonna be a lag between the period you implement it and the period when it clicks," Stenberg said.
It clicked with rollouts, wheel routes and sweeps. The Broncos lost the lead in the second half but finished strong.
The loss dealt a blow to the playoff hopes of Stephenson (3-3 overall, 1-2 in the Mid Eastern Conference).
"We've got to win out," Stephenson coach Chad Brandt said. "Right now we've just got to get healthy."
After forcing a three-and-out to begin the game, the Eagles fumbled the ball away on their first play from scrimmage. Stephenson needed seven plays to move 18 yards, but turned the turnover into a 2-yard touchdown run by Hunter Messersmith with 6:44 in the first quarter.
On the Broncos' next possession, Jorden Sodergren completed a 32-yard pass to Messersmith on fourth-and-9, and the combo hooked up on a 19-yard TD pass on fourth-and-12.
"That kills a defense," Brandt said.
The conversion run failed, but the Broncos led 12-0 with 9:17 in the half.
Stephenson mounted a nine-play scoring drive just before the half. Jaske Maki broke off a 58-yard run on third-and-6. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, quarterback Alex Starzynski bulled into the end zone with 9.2 seconds in the half.
When BR-H jumped offsides, the Eagles scrapped the extra point and Starzynski ran for two points.
Stephenson drove 36 yards in 11 plays with the opening drive of the second half, but Kent Dubord stuffed a fourth-down screen pass.
Jake Maki's fumble recovery led to Stephenson's next scoring drive, which covered 42 yards in seven plays. Matt Hanson caught a 27-yard pass, and Starzynski gained 8 yards on fourth-and-3, Maki scored on a 4-yard run with 1:52 in the third quarter. Quintin Lukasik passed to Jacob Spaude for the two-point conversion and a 16-12 Stephenson lead.
Stephenson stopped BR-H's inside running game until Brian Latta broke off a 59-yard scoring run with 7 seconds in the quarter. Kyle Kleiman caught the conversion pass, and the Broncos regained a 20-16 lead.
Kleiman caught a 24-yard pass on third-and-20, setting up BR-H's next score, a 6-yard run by Latta with 6:42 left.
Alex Emmes then turned an interception into a 43-yard touchdown return with 5:37 remaining.
Down 16 points with time running out, the Eagles gave themselves a fighting chance. Starzynski threw an 8-yard TD pass to Trevor Christopherson with 3:35 left, and Lukasik ran in the conversion points.
The Broncos recovered the onside kick but turned the ball over on downs at the Eagles' 21 with 1:16 remaining. But the game ended on an incompletion.
"We executed better than we have in the past," Stenberg said. "We were more consistent moving the ball."