The final conference game of the 2013 football season between DeSoto and North Crawford will be remembered in some detail for many years to come by many of those who played in it or even watched it.
When it was over the DeSoto Pirates had beaten their hosts, the undefeated North Crawford Trojans, 31-28 to earn a share of the Ridge and Valley Conference Championship. The game proved to be a tour de force of high school football, complete with bruising tackles, touchdown passes, blocked punts, a field goal and even an onside kick attempt in the waning moments that almost worked.
In winning the game, the Pirates not only grabbed a piece of the championship, they avenged last season’s loss to the Trojans on a final-minute field goal. This year, the Pirates and Trojans ended the season as conference co-champions with identical 5-1 conference records.
North Crawford football coach Brandon Munson said later it was “a good high school football game” and the type of game he was expecting “going right down to the wire.”
Munson was quick to acknowledge the Pirates for their effort Friday night.
“I thought it was a good game,” Munson said. “They have a good program. It was definitely the most physical game we’ve been in this season.”
The coach was also proud of his team for not “folding it in at the end” when they trailed DeSoto by 10 in the fourth quarter.
In fact, trailing 31-21 in the fourth quarter with less than three minutes to go in the game, the Trojans recovered a DeSoto fumble on the Pirate’s 20-yard line and punched it into the end zone a few plays later, making it 31-28.
North Crawford attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and came very close to recovering the ball near midfield after the kick went off a DeSoto player and a wild scramble for the ball followed. Several Trojans and more than one Pirate had their hands on the ball, but no one could come out with it. Then, the ball popped loose and came to rest on the grass about five yards from the pile of players. A DeSoto player raced up to it from the other side of the field fell on the ball securing it and ultimately the win for the Pirates.
Coach Munson fell to his knees overwhelmed with the emotion of the moment, as he watched the game slip away. Later, he noted there was still a minute-and-a-half on the clock and North Crawford still had one timeout, when the onside kick got away from them.
DeSoto picked up a first down and the clock expired.
“There were so many momentum swings in this game,” Munson said. “Football is really a game of momentum.”
The coach believes the Trojans lost an opportunity in the second quarter to build on their 14-7 lead with a couple more plays.
“We were on the verge of taking control,” Munson recalled the moment in the second quarter.
Unfortunately, a mental mistake on defense proved to be the turning point in the second quarter. The Pirates had the ball on the North Crawford 40-yard line when receiver Eric Fladhammer lined up wide right. The Trojan defense failed to react and no one came to cover the receiver until defensive back Cody Hershberger realized the lapse and raced over to try and provide some coverage. Arriving late, Hershberger was forced to try and catch Fladhammer as he streaked toward the end zone. Pirate quarterback Tanner Johnson led Fladhammer perfectly for a touchdown pass. With the extra point, the game was tied 14-14.
The Trojans mounted a drive at the end of the half and wound up with the ball on the DeSoto five-yard line, but were turned back as the Pirates broke up passes into the end zone on third and fourth down.
Munson said later he considered sending Hunter Fortney out to kick a field goal and was pretty confident he could kick the field goal, but felt the Trojans could exploit favorable matchup on the DeSoto cornerback using Eric Friar on an out route. Unfortunately, for the Trojans a DeSoto linebacker jumped the route and was able to knock the ball away from Friar in the end zone. The Pirates took control of the ball on fourth down and the half ended a 14-14 tie.
Both teams started the game pretty wired and the nerves showed. The Trojan receiver fumbled the opening kickoff, but managed to recover the ball. Then, they fumbled the ball on the first play from the line of scrimmage and again recovered. Forced to punt on fourth down, DeSoto blocked the North Crawford punt.
It turned out, the Pirates were pretty nervous themselves and promptly fumbled the ball back to the Trojans on their second play.
Both teams settled down quite a bit after their initial possessions, but there were a few notable exceptions including a second blocked punt by DeSoto’s Alex Stevenson.
Both teams seemed to be prepared to stop the other’s running game in the first half and there was a lot more success in the passing game. In fact, the Trojans scored their first touchdown on a 53-yard pass from Hank Schellhorn to Eric Friar.
In the second half, DeSoto’s Patrick Lown and, to a lesser extent, North Crawford running back Branden Baumeister began to gain some yards. Lown finished the game gaining 137 yards on 24 carries and Baumeister had 77 yards on 19 carries.
Munson explained that changes North Crawford made at halftime to try and slow down the DeSoto passing attack allowed the running game to flourish. In addition to Lown, Pirate quarterback Tanner Johnson was able to gain 100 yards on 12 carries. Trojan quarterback Hank Schellhorn and running back Jacob Salmon each added another 24 yards of rushing for North Crawford.
For the game, North Crawford ran for 148 yards and passed for 118 yards for a total offensive output of 266 yards. DeSoto ran for 248 yards and passed for 143 yards for a total of 391 yards of offense. DeSoto’s Johnson was 8-10 passing and Schellhorn was 6-15. Neither quarterback was intercepted.
DeSoto gave the ball up twice on fumbles, while the Trojans gave up the ball only once on a fumble despite fumbling on three occasions.
Seeded third in the eight-team southwest regional, North Crawford will host the Ithaca Bulldogs this Friday. The Trojans beat the Bulldogs 52-12 for Homecoming. Although Ithaca went on to win four straight games since that time.
If the Trojans are lucky enough to beat Ithaca again, they would in all likelihood be headed to Potosi, assuming the number two-seeded Chieftains can win their first game in the regionals.
Last year, the Trojans post-season ended at Potosi after they fell behind early and could never come back.