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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Evan HolmesThe Pintos charge onto the field amidst a crowd of waves, cheers and fireworks ahead of Friday’s Homecoming clash against Versailles.

After a bitter defeat at the hands of the Boonville Pirates a week ago, the California Pintos returned to the field Friday for another difficult test.

Despite entering the game with just one win in five games, the Versailles High School Tigers had proven to be a force to be reckoned with throughout the Tri-County Conference. California High School's stadium was jam-packed from end to end with fans as California celebrated its Homecoming week. Before the game, Pintos sophomore Ayden Bryant was crowned as Homecoming prince with Isabella Kincaid being crowned princess, while senior kicker Aldofo Osio was crowned Homecoming king with Bailey Lage crowned as Homecoming queen.

That Homecoming boost helped California seal a tight 43-40 victory, improving to 4-2 on the season.

The night started off in good fun for the Pintos when they forced the Tigers into turnovers on both of their first two possessions. Both turnovers would lead to scores in the first quarter, one each from Enoch Dunnaway and Trevor Myers, and California quickly jumped ahead 15-0. After Myers' touchdown, the Pintos faked the extra point kick and converted a two-point conversion instead.

Despite leading by 15 points early in the game, the Pintos' defense struggled to stop the Tigers' passing game. Versailles' wide receivers took advantage of their matchups and converted two receiving touchdowns late in the first and second quarter.

Myers kept up the pace set by Versailles' wide receiver corps by finding the end zone again on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Calen Kruger. California entered the locker room at halftime with a 22-12 lead.

But in the second half, the Pintos followed an eerily similar pattern as they did in an earlier matchup against the Osage Indians. The Pintos got a break when quarterback Calen Kruger fumbled the ball in the end zone and teammate Drake Schlup grabbed the ball for a touchdown.

However, from that point on, it was the Tigers who were in control.

Versailles scored touchdowns on their next three possessions, including a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown. California couldn't put a stop to the Tigers' drives, as Versailles converted five for 12 on third downs and four of its five fourth downs in the game. By the end of the third quarter, Versailles had stunned California by taking the lead 33-29.

After trading touchdowns in the fourth quarter, California still trailed Versailles 40-36. But the Pintos would have one last chance, as they got the ball back with just more than three minutes remaining. The Pintos took the ball all the way down to the two-yard line with a third-and-goal play coming up.

On third-and-goal, Calen Kruger faked a hand-off to running back Enoch Dunnaway and ran into the end zone to give the Pintos the lead with 32.8 seconds remaining. Kruger sealed the Pintos' victory when he intercepted the ball on the Tigers' next possession, one of five turnovers the Pintos forced throughout the game. The Pintos had defeated the Versailles Tigers 43-40.

Pintos head coach Seth Womack said while the Pintos faced the prospect of another gut-wrenching defeat, his team showed true grit when it counted the most.

"It was that same feeling. But I think tonight was a little bit different. In Osage, maybe they felt a little bit harder because it was their first time," Womack said. "And tonight, they were like 'Hey, we've been here before. We know how to respond from this.' And they did. The toughness that this group has is amazing every time I see them on the field."

The Pintos' victory did come at a price, as senior running back Tyler Patterson injured his ankle in the first half and did not return. Womack told his team after the game that they would have to have a "next man up" mentality if someone should ever go down again.

"We talk about this at practice. We work on it. We've got to get guys ready," Womack said. "Tonight, we didn't know. We don't play for that. We hope it never happens. But it is an unfortunate reality, and we'll wait and see with Tyler."

The Pintos will be back on the road this week to take on the Eldon Mustangs. Eldon is currently one of four teams in the Tri-County Conference with a 2-4 record. But as the Pintos have seen throughout the season, records don't mean anything when you take the field.

"Eldon is going to give us fits. We know that. They're tough, they're physical. They're like Osage, but better," Womack said. "They come right out at you and they're going to smash you in the mouth over and over again. We're going to break it down and see what we can do. We'll put our best plan together, and whoever is out on the field is going to compete through and through."

The Pintos will kick off at Eldon this Friday at 7 p.m.

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