Raiders tough out every last twistOctober 26, 2013
By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer
TELL CITY — Two drives, two scores. The script had been written. Southridge burst out of the gates and never looked back.
Yet the script was reworked. Again and again and again.
A whirlwind of big plays, momentum shifts, answered prayers, and complete bedlam. If it was imaginable, it wove into the fabric of Friday night’s palpitating plot.
In the end, after the hundreds of yards amassed, the countless collisions and unending twists, a couple inches penned the inconceivable coda.
When it was over, the Raiders danced. They shouted. They hugged. They simply breathed, knowing full well that one play at any point could have altered the outcome entirely. As Legion Field’s east endzone scoreboard illuminated No. 6 Southridge’s 28-27 triumph over host Tell City in the Class 2A sectional opener, the emotions gushed forth.
“Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy,” Southridge junior Guadalupe Perez said.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight. And everybody else did. This is what we live for. This is what we play football for.”
The evening’s final sequence was extrordinary. Tell City quarterback Brennan Malone sailed a touchdown pass 31 yards into the hands of receiver Chris Schaefer to bring the Marksmen within 28-27 with 42 seconds remaining and begin the churning of gears inside Tell City coach Ryan George’s head.
Initially, the Marksmen lined up in a receiver-free I-formation set, appearing set for a two-point conversion instead of the game-tying extra point. After two fake snaps and no flinches on Southridge’s line, the Marksmen called timeout. Upon returning to play, Tell City (6-4) again lined up in the I-formation. Snap. Option to the right.
After Malone reached the right sideline without making forward progress and with a swarm of Raiders ready to pounce, the senior alertly pitched the ball some 3 yards forward to running back Elliott Brown. The speedster then sprinted backward, all the way to the 15-yard line, before cutting back upfield, lacerating the Raider defense and zipping up the sideline into the endzone.
Southridge senior Aidan Michel fell to his knees. Teammate Brett Nordhoff felt tears well up in his eyes. And then each caught glimpse of the yellow flag — a block-in-the-back penalty that sent Tell City back to its 19-yard line.
Southridge then called timeouts Nos. 2 and 3 of the extra-point sequence, looking to unnerve the Marksman kicker Spenser Beard, who now mulled over a 36-yard extra-point try.
“It was only three timeouts?!” Nordhoff cried afterward. “It felt like 40.”
Finally, the snap. Yet as Beard stepped forward, Malone — the Marksmen’s holder — jetted out to the left with the ball, looking downfield for a pass option. He targeted a receiver standing alone in the back of the endzone. The ball arrived less than a foot above the wideout’s hand and fell to the ground, as Southridge lineman Logan Sollman buried Malone and teammate Cody Thompson collided with the receiver.
“I started growing gray hairs in those last 42 seconds,” Raider linebacker Beau Schneider said.
With an onside kick recovery and two kneel-downs by Southridge quarterback Luke Stetter, the folly drew to a close.
“These two teams tonight just laid out every ounce of what they had,” Raider coach Scott Buening said. “I don’t think anyone had anything left. At the end of the game, they didn’t have anything, we didn’t have anything.
“It’s hard to put it all into words right now.”
Especially considering the rollercoaster the Raiders (8-2) rode.
Southridge bolted ahead 14-0 eight minutes into the contest, traveling 127 yards on 13 plays in 4 1/2 minutes of possession. From there, the Raiders limped for just 7 yards on their next eight offensive snaps before Schaefer returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown, cutting Southridge’s lead in half with less than two minutes left in the second quarter.
And while Southridge’s defense turned away Tell City on its two first-half trips into the red zone, including an interception on the 2 by Thompson, it also lost Jeremiah Mundy (two sacks) and Alex Householder to concussions by the end of the third quarter.
The effect of the absences showed, Buening said. Tell City’s Brown, who the Raiders held to 39 yards rushing in the regular-season contest, found his legs in Friday’s second half, tallying 122 of his 179 yards after the break. He hammered in the Marksmen’s second score two plays after Mundy departed and later blazed 43 yards for his second touchdown, which he followed with a two-point conversion run to knot the score at 21.
As elusive as Brown was, the Raiders found rebuttals rooted in resolve. Drawn-out, methodical resolve.
First, a 13-play, 50-yard drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters, capped by Connor Craig’s second score of the contest with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Next, with the score squared at 21, the Raiders marched 58 yards, again on 13 plays. Within it, Southridge induced the Marksmen to jump offsides on a fourth-and-1 hard count Raider offensive coordinator Brad Ohanian had suggested to Buening earlier that day. Perez also registered a pair of first-down runs and Craig (174 rushing yards) slipped between two defenders for his third score on his 24th and final carry of the contest.
“In all my years of coaching, I don’t know if I’ve seen two more impressive drives than the two (scoring) drives we had in the second half,” Buening said.
“You talk about making plays when you’ve got to make plays, and the guys did it, against a stout defense. Those were just huge, huge, huge drives.”
Added Craig: “In the offseason, we worked on conditioning every day, and that’s what paid off for us. Everybody. We gritted, we grinded. ... We knew we would have to drive the ball down 50-plus yards at the end of the game, and we pulled it off.”
As Buening began extolling praise on his squad as they knelt before him, the first-year coach pointed a finger directly at Perez, a few rows back.
“You stepped up every time we needed you. Great job, G-Man, great job,” Buening told him.
Not only did Perez team with Jacob Mundy to help fill Householder’s void, but Perez also booted all four extra points, the game-winner being his truest all night.
“Coach said, ”˜Next man up. Next man up,’” Perez said. “Someone goes down, next man up. And that’s what I did.”
Buening praised the effort at length — that of his own crew and that of a foe he felt deserved victory just as much.
“We just found a way to be a point better there at the end,” Buening said. “Any of those plays don’t go our way at the end, we lose.”
In the end, the win epitomized the camaraderie, the endurance Buening said he’s seen all year.
“Resiliency,” Buening said. “I know that’s a word I’ve used all year, but there’s just no better word to describe this football team than just monumentally resilient.
“We really, really hung together as a group. And I think that’s the thing ultimately where we always talk about ”˜Divided you fall, united you stand together.’ And we stood together tonight. And our guys kept pulling for each other. And even when it didn’t look good, we found a way. And that’s about all I can say, is we found a way.”
Contact Joe Jasinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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