Every time the Beckman football Blazers found themselves down this season, they managed to claw their way back for a win. Not so Oct. 9 at home against West Branch, who handed the Blazers their first district loss, 35-21.
The loss tied them with Cascade and West Branch District 7, Class 1A title. All three teams had a single district loss.
The game didn’t look like it would be a loser from the start. The Blazers drew first blood on their first possession of the second quarter when Nick Offerman got loose for a 41-yard run and a 6-0 lead. Trouble with the snap made Logan Burchard pick up the ball and try to run for two, but it didn’t work.
The Bears went back to their chief ground gainer Andy Henson on their possession, where he gained 21 of the final 23 yards for paydirt and a 7-6 lead, one they would not lose for the rest of the game.
Held to three-and-out on their next drive, the Blazers gave the ball back on the Bears’ 36 and it took them just six minutes to score again, this time a pass from Gavin Hierseman to Simon Palmer for 19 yards and 14-6 lead to go into the half.
They scored again, twice, in the third, the first on a 62-yard run from Henson and the second, a 48-yard pass to Carver Boelk. Before the run, Beckman’s Elliot Naughton was injured on a sideline hit after he caught an Offerman pass seriously enough to send him to the hospital. On the Blazer series in between the two Bears’ scores, they moved the ball but got flagged with back-to-back illegal motion penalties that stalled the drive and it took just a minute for the Bears to capitalize. Right after that, leading Blazer receiver Trent Koelker went down with what appeared ot be a game-ending shoulder injury
It became 35-6 with the first plays of the fourth quarter when Henson got loose from Blazer Owen Huehnergarth and added two more yards to his night-leading total of 172. Huehnergarth had been a thorn in his side all night, amassing 11 tackles, most of them taking Henson down. But then the Blazers gave their fans some hope that the comeback would begin.
With Koelker gone, passes to Burchard, Conner Grover and Max Mullis moved the Blazers in the right direction, one that Offerman capped with a 44-yard scamper that appeared to end in the endzone. Stopped for stepping out at the three-yard line, Offerman called his own number on the next play and strolled into the endzone to make it 35-12. He repeated that move on a two-point conversion for a 35-14 mark.
An onside kick worked for the Blazers in that they held the Bears to three-and-out. Beginning at the 20-yard line, Offerman threw to a re-entered Koelker who raced 80 yards for the final Blazer tally and a 35-21 mark.
The Bears decided to use the clock and ran the ball the rest of the night, using Henson. They moved to the 15 but failed on a field goal attempt with less than two minutes left. An interception by Boelk in the final 30 seconds ended the game, as they took a knee on their series.
Coach Mark Atwater commented, “We were able to fight the entire game. When I look back at some of the situations we put ourselves in, we just didn’t capitalize as much as they did. They did things to us that we have been doing the past four weeks to defeat the other teams. We didn’t control the ball like we have done in the past and that hurt us.
“Then the most obvious thing that hurt us was injuries. We got derailed with very significant injuries to our team that really sucked the life out of us and they were able to put some distance between us. The thing I am so proud of is how our kids never stopped fighting. We had two onside kick chances and never gave up. It would have been easy to just pack things in once that happened but they didn’t.
“At the end of the day, we have a share of the district title. That is a huge accomplishment for any program. Now looking forward we need to get healthy and make our push for the playoffs. We will be a tough out for any team that draws us because of the toughness we have on this team.”
Individual stats: passing — Offerman 7-of-18 for 110 yards; receiving — Koelker 2-for-81, Naughton 1-for-12, Burchard 1-for-7, Mullis 1-for-5, Grover 1-for-4, Huehnergarth 1-for-2; rushing— Offerman 15-for-148, Huehnergarth 10-for-27; punting — Burchard 4-for-144; kick returns — Cayden Gassmann 6-for-177; punt return— Koelker 1-for-8; tackles — Huehnergarth 11 (2.5 for loss), Owen Gaul 9.5 (.5), Gassmann nine (.5), Burchard 4.5 (.5), Grover 4.5, Ben Lueck 3.5, Mullis 2.5 (one), Luke Hirsch 2.5, Jason Koopmann and Michael Dinan two, Naughton 1.5, Koelker, Lucas Boge, Luke Schieltz and Drew Soppe one.
Teamwise, the Bears gained 447 yards, 259 rushing, to the Blazers’ 285, 175 rushing. Both teams were penalized three times. The Blazers lost two balls to interceptions during their 18:06 minutes of possession. The Bears earned 23 first downs during their 29:54 minutes.