RILEY — The Southeast of Saline Trojans saw their playoff hopes slip through their hands, and Riley County was right there to cash in.
Three fourth-quarter turnovers, the first one leading to a go-ahead touchdown, proved to be the Trojans' undoing Friday night as they fell 14-8 loss to Riley County in the second round of the Class 2A football playoffs.
Riley County, 8-2, will play host to Silver Lake (10-0) next Friday in a quarterfinal game, while Southeast of Saline's season ended at 7-3.
It was the second meeting between the teams in three weeks. Riley County came from behind to beat the Trojans 33-29 on Oct. 18 at Southeast.
"I thought our kids played hard the entire football game," said Southeast coach Mitch Gebhardt, whose Trojans also were knocked out of the playoffs by Riley County last year after winning the regular-season matchup. "Riley County made some big plays at key times."
No play was bigger than an interception by Riley County sophomore Trey Harmison with 7 1/2 minutes left in the game. The Falcons took over near midfield and drove for what proved to be the winning score on Garrett Harmison's 12-yard completion to Trey Harmison with 4:26 on the clock.
The two-point conversion pass failed.
"He's a good athlete and he made a good play," Gebhardt said of the pick.
Southeast still had enough time left, but muffed the ensuing kickoff to give Riley County possession at the 24-yard line. The Trojans held on downs at their own 10-yard line with 2:30 left, but with no timeouts remaining.
On the next play, Avrey Brokenicky came up with another interception for the Falcons, who ran out the clock.
Southeast had forced the only previous turnovers in the game, thwarting a pair of Riley County drives with fumble recoveries.
"A couple of other times they put the ball on the ground and we didn't come up with it," Gebhardt said. "Turnovers in a game like that are game-changers.
"(But) no one play changes that game completely. There are multiple plays that add up to winning or losing."
Southeast of Saline squandered a scoring opportunity in the first quarter after forcing a Riley County fumble at the Falcon 37-yard line. The Trojans picked up a first down at the 12-yard line, only to turn the ball over on downs at the 5 with a pair of incomplete passes.
The Trojans did grab the lead midway through the second quarter with a 13-play, 94-yard drive that took five minutes off the clock. Jaxson Gebhardt hit Seth Eklund down the left sideline for a 19-yard touchdown with 6:47 left in the half, then ran it in himself for the two-point conversion.
Riley County answered with a sustained drive of its own and had first and goal at the Southeast 7-yard line, but the Trojans made a stop on fourth down just short of the goal line.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, they were unable to advance the ball, and a short punt into the wind game Riley County the ball back at the Southeast 34. On the next play, Garrett Harmison found Brokenicky down the middle for the score with 1:20 left before halftime, then hit Trey Harmison on the two-point conversion pass to tie it at 8-8.
"They did a nice job throwing the football tonight," Gebhardt said of the Falcons.
Garrett Harmison completed 7 of 15 passes for 213 yards, including five to Trey Harmison for 132. The Falcons rushed for 129 yards with Deon Barnes picking up 46 on 20 carries.
Southeast finished with 261 yards total offense, 163 through the air. Gebhardt completed 15 of 28 passes for 163 yards, including five to Raef Boley for 51 yards, and rushed for 71 yards on 15 carries.
"I thought both defenses played very well," Gebhardt said. "It was a physical football game from both teams and yards were hard to come by.
"It was a tough loss for our program because we had a lot of kids commit a lot of time and effort to what we do. I told the boys after the game that I was proud of what they did and they played a really good football team right up to the end with an opportunity to move on in the playoffs."