**ARTICLE BY JOSH LONGSTRETH**
The Clare Pioneers came into the 2022 Playoffs making their seventh straight appearance to the post-season. No stranger to being here, Clare would look to get a renewed sense of life after dropping their final two regular season games. Even with that, the Pioneers have a way of playing their best at this point in the season. It wouldn’t be easy in facing the Standish Sterling Panthers who after their first loss of the season last week, would look to do the visiting Pioneers no favors. Standish had dropped their only game of the year to this point to a very good Gladwin team that is clicking on all cylinders in week 9. What a game this one turned out to be Friday night in round one.
The Panthers would jump on the board first in this one. Garrett Reeve would catch a pass from QB Truman King from 18-yards out. It would give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead and that would stand heading into the 2nd quarter.
Clare would get themselves on the board after a 24-yard FG kick from Ethan Cook. Clare giving Standish a battle but would find themselves down at the half. Standish would give themselves a little breathing room after a 1-yard TD run. The PAT would give the Panthers a 14-3 lead heading into the locker rooms.
The Pioneer defense would really tighten up to begin the half. They would hold the Standish offense to no points in the 3rd. Clare would find the endzone for the first time on the night when Jayden Arthur would find Ryan Louch for a 12-yard TD pass. The 2-point try would be no good but all of the sudden, we had a 14-9 game heading into the last quarter of play.
Clare would continue building the momentum. The Pioneers would take their first lead of the night on a Westyn Bryant 10-yard TD run. The 2-point try would fail but it would be Clare to that point leading, 15-14. It wouldn’t last long, however, as Standish would strike back on a 20-yard TD pass. A successful 2-point try would give the Panthers a 22-14 advantage. The Pioneers would not go away. Carter Smedley would haul in an Arthur pass from 10-yards away cutting the Panther lead. After a Cook PAT, we had ourselves a tied ball game, 22-22. That’s the way the 4th would end. and fans would get themselves some free playoff football.
The Pioneers would get things going in the overtime period. Arthur would connect with Louch again, this time from 14-yards out. The road team would give themselves a 29-22 advantage. Standish would show do what they have done all year. Striking back on a 10 yard pass TD, the lead cut to one. That wasn’t it, they wanted it over to that point and delivered. Standish would put it all on the line on a 2-point conversion to keep their season going. A successful conversion attempted allowed Standish Sterling to win this one in an absolute thrilling fashion, 30-29.
Clare’s season will end in a heart breaker but it’s clear the Pioneers gave everything they had on this night. The Pioneer offense would put up over 300 yards of total offense and hold the Panther to just 257. Young QB Jayden Arthur would throw for 177 yards and 3 TD’s with 2 INT’s. Westyn Bryant added a rushing TD, and led the defense with 6 tackles on the night. Ryan Louch had himself a night. He would catch 8 passes for 125 yards and 2 TD’s helping the offense. Carter Smedley added a receiving TD and 3 tackles for the Pioneers. Allen Smith picked up the lone sack of the night for the Clare defense.
The season will end for Clare before they wanted it to, they’ll finish at 5-5. No team ever wants their season to end unless it’s with a championship, however, this is a Pioneer team that will not be losing much by way of Seniors. Much of the roster stays intact, as this Clare team was fairly young. Jayden Arthur returns as he picked up a ton of valuable experience on the year after an unfortunate injury to Miles Haggart. Haggart himself will return next year in what will be a huge addition. Carter Smedley, who adds another dimension to the offense, will be back. Ryan Louch will return as a Junior. Westyn Bryant, a leader in the backfield, returns. Owhin Thompson, Jake Punches, Allen Smith, Chase Randall, and Ritchie Montgomery all return as well. Look out for the Pioneers again next year as they should be a team near the top in the JPC.
Standish showed their heart yet again tonight, something they’ve shown several times throughout the year and especially in the Ithaca and Millington games. They’ll look to keep their season rolling next week when they take on the aforementioned Millington. The Panthers were able to come back late earlier in the season defeating the Cardinals, 28-24. Millington will be looking for some payback in that way but the Panthers, who are ranked in the state, will be up to task.