“Man, all we had to do was hold them. Fourth-and-six, we hold them and it’s our game.” Those were the disgruntled words of a Durant fan walking out of Beckman Field after his team had lost a playoff game, 19-14, to the Blazers.
It was the second time this year the Wildcats had fallen to the Blazers. Sept. 25 saw the Blazers take a 24-17 homecoming win, also a last-minute decision.
The Wildcats had controlled a 14-10 fourth-quarter lead for about seven minutes, using runs by leading ground-gainer Nolan DeLong and quarterback Keagan Head until Beckman kicker Logan Burchard stepped in front of a Head pass for an interception with 4:11 to go. The Blazers took over at the Wildcat 38.
Owen Huehnergarth ran a solid 19 yards on first down. Nick Offerman lost three, then Huehnergarth got eight back to put them at “that” 4th-and-six with 1:57 left. After a timeout, Offerman sought his favorite receiver, Trent Koelker, who snatched the ball from between two defenders in the endzone for a 16-14 lead. Burchard’s kick made it 17-14.
“That final connection between Nick and Trent was just a bigtime play,” glowed coach Mark Atwater. “Those two have been doing that for a long time. Trent beats his man and Nick lays a great ball out there for him to catch. They have made that our staple this year. They have a great connection and there was no bigger catch than that in my time at Beckman. With our backs to the wall, those two stepped up and made a bigtime play.”
After Burchard kicked off into the endzone, the Wildcats began at their own 20, but a bad snap from center sent Head backward to the one-yard line. At second-and-29, Head flipped a shovel pass to Carter Wichelt, but an alert Owen Gaul caught him in the endzone for a safety and a 19-14 Blazer lead. The clock showed 1:26 when the Wildcats sent an onside kick right at Blazer Max Mullis. Even with two timeouts, the Wildcats couldn’t stop the Blazers and the win was green-and-gold.
The victory sends them to the next round of playoff games, against Sigourney-Keota, Oct. 30, at Sigourney.
Defense was a big factor in the game, even before the ending heroics. The Blazers stuck the Wildcats to a three-and-out to begin the game, then marched back down the field in seven plays to score their first touchdown. Huehnergarth ran four of the seven plays and Offerman got the final nod for a five-yard run and a 7-0 lead when Burchard’s kick was good. That’s the way the quarter ended.
In the second, after the Blazers stymied Durant again on fourth-and-five, they began another drive that encompassed four minutes and ended with a 33-yard Burchard field goal. During the drive, Koelker ran a toss 61 yards to the red zone, but a flag and incomplete pass forced the field goal, 10-0.
Another Durant possession ended early and the Blazers attacked again, going 12 plays to the 22 for another field goal attempt. This, a 38-yarder, was just short and into the wind, sending the teams to halftime.
A Blazer possession after the half ended via the pick-off route but Durant failed to connect on three straight pass attempts and punted, forcing the Blazers to do the same on their next drive. On the Wildcats’ next drive, they found Cameron Ruggeiro open for a 10-7 tally with 6:20 left in the third.
After the Blazers were forced to punt four minutes later, the Wildcats broke Ruggerio free on their first play from scrimmage for a 48-yard completion and a 14-10 lead. That set up the fourth-quarter fireworks.
“Our defense was the story of the night,” added Atwater. “Coach Meissner had a great plan for them and they were able to shut down a very high-powered offense. They take pride in doing the little things right and makes them fun to watch.
“Then offensively our ground game was huge. Owen set a tone with how he was running the ball. He really looked to punish guys as he ran. Huge credit to our offensive line as well. There were plays where they did things perfectly. I am sure you can tell the guy who calls the plays coaches our offensive line with how we just pounded it.
“This was a huge win for our team. The thing I have been so proud of this whole year is how unfazed our kids have been in the face of adversity. I am sure there aren’t a lot of people who would have picked us to be in this spot after what we dealt with in the beginning of the year. We had Covid issues and then took it on the chin to Anamosa the following week. Credit our kids, they just came back to work and battled. It has seemed that when their backs are against the wall they come through.”
Huehnergarth led all rushers with 175 yards on 27 carries. The Blazer D held DeLong to just 92 yards on 16, down from the 160 he got in the teams’ first meeting. Other stats include: passing — Offerman 7-of-15 for 99 yards; receiving — Koelker 5-for-98, Conner Grover 1-for-4; rushing — Offerman 13-for-51, Cayden Gassmann 3-for-6; punting — Burchard 3-for-83, kick returns — Koelker 1-for-17, Mullis 2-for-14; punt returns — Koelker 1-for-11; tackles — Grover 7.5 (seven solo); Koelker 4.5 (four), Michael Dinan 3.5 (three), Gaul 3.5 (two), Jason Koopmann three (two), Luke Hirsch 2.5 (one), Lucas Boge, Brett Burlage and Lane Kramer two (two), Huehnergarth two, Drew Soppe 1.5, Arturo Venegas one (one); tackles for loss — Gaul two, Koelker, Dinan, Burlage, and Venegas one; interception — Burchard; sacks — Dinan and Gaul one.