GREENSBURG — First he barreled into the end zone. Then he unexpectedly converted an onside kick. After that? He hauled in a touchdown pass. Then came two more onside kick recoveries.
Eastern Hancock junior running back A.J. Muegge was all over the football field Friday.
And despite his effort and a valiant fourth-quarter comeback by the Royals, Class 2A No. 11 Eastern Hancock fell 30-26 at South Decatur. The Royals covered two crucial onside kicks in the fourth quarter to storm back after trailing 30-14. They fell just short, however, after a holding penalty negated the game-winning score — a pass from Jarett Lewis to Clayton Cochard — with no time left on the clock.
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“That last play was crazy,” Lewis said after almost winning the game. “I thought we had it. We were close.
“(A.J.) is a tough kid and runs hard. He got us going and was our x-factor. He played well tonight.”
Cougars’ senior running back Damon Allen totaled 328 yards and four touchdowns last week in a rout of North Decatur. He carried a load of the work for the South Decatur offense again on Friday and finished with 38 carries for 268 yards and three touchdowns. He had 18 attempts and 149 yards by halftime.
“(Allen) is a ground and pound runner,” Lewis said. “You have to go for his legs or he will run over you.”
Allen helped the Cougars burn clock in the second half and appeared to put the game away with a 25-yard touchdown run with 2:58 left in the fourth quarter. Then the comeback started.
Lewis scampered into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown run to break the scoring drought, which lasted nearly three quarters, with 1:40 left in the game. Still trailing 30-20, Eastern Hancock added its second onside kick recovery of the game and pulled within four, 30-26. However, the margin was just too much to overcome.
Muegge finished with 96 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards while Lewis was 17 of 34 for 272 yards. He also threw two interceptions.
Cochard, a junior tight end, finished with 110 yards through the air and caught the potential game-winner.
Royals’ senior running back Devin Denny, who finished with 114 yards and two touchdowns last week, did not play on Friday due to injury.
Despite the loss, the Royals’ offense got off to a hot start as Lewis found Cochard for a 47-yard gain the first play from scrimmage. Muegge would find power into the end zone on the next play for an early 7-0 lead for the visitors just over 30 seconds into the game.
Less than three minutes later, Muegge would sneak to the outside for an 11-yard reception from Lewis, who finished with 158 yards passing in the first half, for a 14-0 Eastern Hancock lead.
Then the offense stalled.
South Decatur’s Allen, who finished with 18 carries for 149 yards in the first half, was repeatedly handed the ball and continued to punish defenders. He helped the Cougars score 16 straight points to take a 16-14 halftime advantage.
After missing his first extra point attempt, South Decatur’s Kordell Meadows, also the team’s quarterback, nailed a 24-yard field goal just before the break.
Defensively, Devyn Brinson recovered a fumble for Eastern Hancock while Reece Burkhart finished with a sack. The Royals offense converted 11 first downs.
Eastern Hancock returns home next week and will host Northeastern at 7 p.m.