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Krans Can Again: Nixa tight end's catches as clutch as his twin sister's epic home run

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CARTHAGE — Cue the copy editor and composing department, cloning of a headline can be given clearance in this case, given the circumstance and complete contrast of a coincidental connection.

"Krans Can" can be the consummate capper.

"Krans Can" can be and should be a catch-phrase.

Not quite a full year after Chloe Krans convinced the southwest Missouri softball circles that "Krans Can," Gaven Krans confirmed to the crazed crowd at Carthage on Friday and football connoisseurs throughout the Ozarks that "Krans Can" again.

Gaven closed as clutch as Chloe, his twin sister.

Gaven Krans' two-point conversion catch with 1:57 remaining completed Nixa's comeback in the Eagles' 22-21 upset of Class 5 No. 1-ranked Carthage, halting the defending COC champions' regular-season win streak at 23 games.

It was a breakthrough night in more ways than one for Gaven, who had all of two career catches prior to Friday. Over the past 11 months, he's had to stand idly by, albeit with pride, as Chloe received adulation for her game-winning home run for the Nixa softball team in the Class 5 District 6 championship game last October.

Hence, the initial "Krans Can" Headliner News headline. Chloe's home run ranked among the Headliner News' Top 10 Sports Stories of 2021.

"My friends were saying my sister was a better athlete than me," Gaven said of the good-natured ribbing he's received. "It actually gave me more confidence to match her level of competition. She's done really good in softball and now I'm finally doing good in football." 

"He had to live in that shadow," Nixa coach John Perry said. "I'm going to say he's not in her shadow no more after tonight. (Gaven) is a household name from now on in Nixa."

"He has a moment now and it was a good one," Eagles quarterback Connor Knatcal said. "He's going to remember it forever."

Krans and Knatcal actually combined for two memorable moments. Earlier in the night, Krans had his first varsity touchdown catch, a 20-yard scoring strike from Knatcal.

"I'm so proud of Gaven for being the type of person we want in this program," Perry said. "He will go down as one of my favorite kids of all-time. Last year, when he wasn't playing at all, he never complained. He was the ultimate team player and kept working hard, while trying to get better every single day. It's so easy for kids when they're not getting what they want to go find something else to do. All he did was keep working. He hung in there and now it's paying off. He's a big-time player now. He's got the best hands on the team, so it's not surprising."

Throughout the week, Gaven admittedly was thinking back to a dropped pass he endured last week against Neosho. But a one-handed snag he made in the first half Friday set him up for success the rest of the night.

"That one-hander completely blew my confidence through the roof," Krans said.

Nixa's dethroning of Carthage was the Eagles' first win against the Tigers since 2014. Carthage hadn't simply beaten Nixa over the past six seasons, the Tigers had manhandled the Eagles on each and every occasion. Last year's meeting between the two was a 49-14 Carthage whipping that wasn't even that close.

This time around, the Tigers absolutely dominated the time of possession, but to no avail.

Nixa had only three offensive possessions in the first half. Carthage held leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 21-14 while converting six straight times on fourth down over the first three quarters. The Tigers' second scoring drive consisted of 22 plays.

"I was surprised they got first down (on fourth down) six times in a row," Nixa cornerback Jordan Tyler said. "But our whole defense made sure no one got down on themselves."

Carthage star Luke Gall kept Nixa's offense off the field by rushing 28 times for 171 yards and two touchdowns.

"Luke Gall is one of the top three football players I've witnessed in my 29 years (of coaching)," Perry said. "He played every single snap on offense and defense."

But this would not prove to be another glorious night for Gall. He fumbled in the second half, as Carthage was not able to continue to play ball-control.

Knatcal shook off a first-half interception to throw a tying touchdown pass to Krans in the late stages of the third quarter, making it 14-14.

A fourth quarter punt by Nixa's Kaleb James proved pivotal. He booted the ball to the Tigers' one-yard line. That led to the Eagles beginning at the Carthage 34-yard line for what would be their winning drive.

On 3rd-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Knatcal rifled a touchdown pass to Noah Engelman to make it 21-20.

The Eagles had long since decided they would try for a two-point conversion. 

"We knew even before we got the ball back that if we got it and scored, we were going for two to end the game and get out of here," Knatcal said. 

"There's no rattling Connor," Perry said. "He's going to make the throw when he has to make it. He's done it a thousand times."

With the array of northeast Oklahoma casinos not too far from Carthage, Perry found himself in a gambling mood.

"I would be all for that tonight. I think I could make a little money, the way the ball bounced our way," Perry said of a casino trip. "(Carthage coach Jon) Guidie might want to stay out of the casino tonight."

Knatcal lofted the two-point conversion pass over Carthage defenders and to Krans in the end zone.

"It wasn't that difficult to catch that ball, it was perfectly placed," Krans said. "Connor had a great game."

"That two-point play was crazy," Knatcal said. "When we draw that up, it's supposed to be wide open. There's not supposed to be anyone over there on him. They covered it well. I just threw it over them and Gaven made a great catch.

"It's nice having so many people who stand out because the defenses have to pay attention to them," Knatcal added. "Gaven is a great football player and on most teams he would be the player (opponents) look out for. But he can sneak under the radar on our team." 

Nixa quickly denied the Tigers' bid for a comeback. On their ensuing possession, Tyler all but clinched the Eagles' win with a pick with 1:29 remaining.

"When the ball is thrown like that in a clutch situation, I need to catch it. If I drop it, the next thing you know we may lose the game," Tyler said. "I dropped one at Neosho last year. That's the last one I've dropped. I've been training myself for just this kind of situation."

As Krans basked in the glow of victory, he couldn't help but wish he could have the kind of momento Chloe has from her shining moment. She has her home run ball at home.

Gaven would have loved to retrieve Friday's game ball.

"I don't know where it is. If I knew, I would get it," he said

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