ANN ARBOR - Bedford football coach Jeff Wood was standing on the turf at Hollway Field Friday night, with the driving rain soaking him to the bone. Behind him, the scoreboard showed his Mules had lost in their first playoff appearance since 1990 - just the second in school history.
He could have hung his head following his team's 28-7 loss to Ann Arbor Pioneer.
But he didn't.
"I'm not unhappy - I can't be unhappy," Wood said. "Look at the effort these kids have given. Even though [Ann Arbor Pioneer] was the better team tonight, our kids played hard. And that's all I can ask of these kids.
"I'm proud of my kids."
The loss in this Michigan Division 1, Region 2 district semifinal gave the Mules a final record of 7-3, while the Pioneers improved to 8-2.
But Bedford showed plenty of fight, taking the opening kickoff and marching down the field to score on an eight-play, 72-yard drive. Zach Messer had the big play of the drive, running 34 yards on a toss sweep before scoring from 13 yards out two plays later.
Bedford seemed poised to repeat its upset win over Pioneer from earlier in the season, limiting the home team to just 22 yards in the first half, including just eight yards on the ground.
But early in the second quarter Pioneer got the ball near midfield and drove 47 yards on four plays to tie the game. Terrell Moran gained 39 yards on two runs, and Jeron Clayton found pay dirt at the end of a 13-yard run.
The Mules moved just past midfield before stalling on a fourth-and-3 play with 1:58 left, and Pioneer raced down the field to score with just 8.1 seconds left in the half on a 14-yard strike from Miles Sorice to Brandis Yarrington.
Meanwhile the Bedford offense managed just 35 yards in the second quarter and only 44 more in the third period. The Mules' best field position after their opening drive came when they started on their own 24 on the final play before halftime.
"It felt like we had to drive from inside our 20-yard line every time," Wood said. "That's a credit to their offense, because they kept knocking us into a hole. And we couldn't get out of the hole."
It didn't help that Bedford managed just three first downs in the middle two quarters and managed just five plays that covered more than five yards.
"There were just too many mistakes," star lineman Mason Cole said. "We made too many errors, turnovers, things like that. We are better than that."
Midway through the third quarter, the Pioneers' Esham Farha recovered an Erik Jones fumble at the Mules' 45, and five plays later Sorise scored on a one-yard QB sneak.
Then midway through the final quarter Sorise capped a five-play drive with a 22-yard pass that bounced off a Bedford defender into the hands of Pioneer's Ricardo Miller for a TD.
Pioneer finished with 333 yards of total offense, balanced nicely between 178 yards passing by Sorise and 155 yards on the ground. Miller, who has verbally committed to play at Michigan, caught five passes for 70 yards after making just two catches for 16 yards in the first contest.
"We had to play a lot more Cover 3 because they went to a tight-end set with Ricardo Miller in the middle," Wood explained. "You can't let Miller run free down the seam, so we had to bring the safety over the top.
"We are a better defense in Cover 2 or Cover 4 with two safeties. But our effort on defense was outstanding."
Meanwhile the Bedford offense finished with 269 yards, 226 of which came on the ground. QB Jared Kujawa finished with a game-high 97 yards on 17 rushes, while Messer had 67 on nine carries and Lee Hullibarger had 50 on 10 rushes.
But the Mules weren't thinking about those numbers when they stood in the wind and the rain following the game. They were thinking about one of the best seasons in Bedford football history.
"It's been a great season - really special," Cole said. "It was the first time we were [Southeastern Conference Red Division] champs, and it was great to get into the playoffs.
"We gave it our all. We just came up short."
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