FINLEY -- With its offense not quite in full gear midway through the third quarter Friday, the Connell defense took the game over.
The Eagles won the field position battle and stopped a key fourth-down play en route to a 46-17 SCAC East victory at River View to win its second consecutive league title.
"We didn't start the game very good," Connell offensive and defensive lineman Rex Lyle said. "We sure showed up in the second half, though."
Leading 21-10 and driving, the Eagles looked like they had the league title wrapped up. But then junior running back Matt Hadley fumbled to give the Panthers the ball.
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Rather than let River View back in the game, the Eagles defense forced a three-and-out and then watched Hadley carry the ball five times, eventually scoring on a 10-yard run to put Connell up 28-10 with 5:39 left in the third quarter.
"Mistakes happen to everyone," said Connell lineman Kennan VanHollebeke about Hadley's fumble. "We can rely on our defense; we have a good defense."
That defense flexed its muscles further on the next River View possession, as the Panthers moved the ball to midfield and faced a fourth-and-1 from their own 47.
Running back Chance Watt was stopped for no gain by Hadley, who came up from his linebacker spot to blow the play up.
"Big-time players make big-time plays," Connell coach Wayne Riner said. "That could've been a momentum changer and (Hadley) made a big play. He makes big plays for us all over the place."
After the change in possession, Hadley went right back to work running behind his big offensive line. The junior carried five times and punched it in on a 4-yard run to blow the game open and give the Eagles a 34-10 lead.
"We got pumped up at halftime and knew we could do better than (in the first half)," VanHollebeke said.
The victory gives the Eagles home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and is their fifth SCAC title in the last six years. Connell will play Naches Valley next week in a regional playoff. River View advances to the playoffs as the No. 3 seed from SCAC East and will play at Goldendale at 7 p.m. Friday.
"In the third quarter, I kind of felt like we ran out of gas," River View coach Brett Jay said. "They came out in the second half and their goal was to pound it and we were getting tired. Hadley is a great, great player."
The Eagles jumped out early behind the play of quarterback Chandler Salisbury, who scored on a quarterback sneak and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Andersen. Hadley also had a 1-yard touchdown run in the first half.
River View answered with a 27-yard field goal by Diego Mendoza and a 12-yard pass from Austin Weatherby to Justin Grow to make it 21-10.
Connell was driving at the end of the half with a chance to go up by three scores, but Salisbury was intercepted by Terry Tracy on a tipped pass inside the 20.
"It feels good to win another league title," Lyle said. "This sets us up good in the playoffs."
Salisbury finished 9-of-13 for 154 yards with two touchdowns and the interception. Kraymer Eppich had four receptions for 112 yards and Hadley rushed 30 times for 242 yards and four touchdowns.
Watt rushed 18 times for 126 yards, with a 44-yard touchdown run to lead the Panthers. Weatherby finished 14-of-21 for 114 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Connell 7 14 13 12 -- 46
River View 3 7 0 7 -- 17
Con--Chandler Salisbury 1 run (Ivan Barragan kick).
RV--FG Diego Mendoza 27.
Con--Matt Hadley 1 run (Barragan kick).
Con--Bryant Andersen 14 pass from Salisbury (Barragan kick).
RV--Justin Grow 12 pass from Austin Weatherby (Mendoza kick).
Con--Hadley 10 run (Barragan kick).
Con--Hadley 4 run (kick failed).
Con--Hadley 11 run (kick failed).
RV--Chance Watt 44 run (Mendoza kick).
Con--Salisbury 1 run (kick failed).
RUSHING--C, Hadley 30-242, James Coulson 7-50, Salisbury 4-22; RV, Watt 18-126, Salisbury 2-0, team 1-(-2).
PASSING--C, Salisbury 9-13-1--154, Hadley 1-1-0--45. RV, Salisbury 14-21-1--114.
RECEIVING--C, Kraymer Eppich 4-112, Andersen 4-48, Hadley 1-23, Alan Hawkins 1-16; RV, Kris Welch 4-30, Watt 4-2, Grow 2-39, Eric Farnworth 2-27, Kody Bartlett 2-16.
FIRST DOWNS--C, 24; RV, 10. FUMBLES-LOST--C, 1-1; RV, 1-0. PENALTIES-YARDS--C, 7-55; RV, 8-70.