In a game desperate for highlights, Keenan’s Kendrick Gathers and Peter Easaw provided them.
Gathers helped offset a multitude of Raider mistakes by hauling in one scoring pass on offense and intercepting three passes on defense, returning one 101 yards for a touchdown, in Keenan’s less-than-inspiring 29-12 win over Eau Claire.
Easaw ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
“I don’t know why we made so many mistakes, maybe it was playing on Thursday,” said Gathers, who leads the state with 10 interceptions.
“But a win is a win, and we’ll take it.”
Keenan (6-3, 3-1) closes the regular season next week against Pelion in a showdown for a second-place region finish.
Eau Claire (1-8, 1-3) was thwarted in its bid to post back-to-back wins for the first time in seven years after ending a 16-game losing streak with an overtime win against North Central a week ago.
“We put ourselves in position for next week’s game, but there is no question that we have to play better,” Keenan coach Quin McCollum said. “The bottom line is we can’t make the kind of mistakes we made tonight if we want to do something in the playoffs.”
Keenan turned the ball over five times and was flagged for 14 penalties totaling 160 yards.
The offensive line had issues dealing with Eau Claire’s incessant blitzing. The Shamrocks finished with 21 stops behind the line. The losses kept Keenan’s rushing net to 99 yards, its overall production to 234 yards.
If the Raiders had troubles on offense, the Shamrocks were in worse shape. Eau Claire threw six interceptions, lost one fumble, finished with 51 net yards and did not score an offensive touchdown.
Wallace Green had a 91-yard kickoff return score, and Brandon Thompson kept things interesting with a 50-yard interception return tally with 6:25 to go, cutting the Keenan lead to 22-12.
But when the two-point conversion try failed, it was over.
Gathers, who finished with 96 receiving yards on four catches, opened the scoring by hauling in a 39-yard scoring pass from Deion Trezevant and turned the game in Keenan’s favor with two second quarter interceptions.
He returned the second pick 101 yards for a touchdown and a 20-6 Raiders lead with 29 seconds left in the first half.
“I’m always looking to make a big play, on offense or defense,” Gathers, a junior, said. “I wasn’t thinking about downing the ball in the end zone. I saw the sideline open. and I went for it.”
K–Kendrick Gathers 39 pass from Deion Trezevant (Troy Brown kick), 8:38
EC–Wallace Green 91 kickoff return (run failed), 8:23
K–Peter Easaw 31 run (kick failed), 2:14
K–Gathers 101 interception return (Brown kick), 0:29
EC–Jordan Thompson 50 interception return (pass failed), 6:25
K–Easaw 42 run (Brown kick), 1:43
Rushing – EC, Robinson 11-20. K, Easaw 27-167, Gray 4-20, Trezevant 11-(-82).
Passing – EC, Thompson 3-11-2-55, Taylor 1-10-4-(-2). K, Trezevant 8-18-1-135.
Receiving – EC, Green 2-11, Butler 2-42. K, Gathers 4-96.