Needing a win to advance their season and post-season hopes, St. Henry and Anna hooked up in a make-or-break scenario. It took overtime to decide an outcome!
Anna – It was Yogi Berra who once famously said, “It sure gets late early out there.” And had he known, Yogi would have appreciated the same for football in the Midwest Athletic Conference.
Enter St. Henry and Anna Friday night with identical 4-2 records, and identical prospects of overhauling either Coldwater or Marion Local for the conference title. Not good!
But that, in and of itself, is not bad. Marion has won at least half of its state titles over the years without winning the league. And Ft. Recovery won the Division VII crown just last year…finishing as an also-ran behind the Cavaliers and Flyers.
And low and behold, Coldwater went down Friday night…33-18, to Minster! Anything is possible.
So to St. Hank and Anna, both entered Friday’s game with plenty of opportunity, yes, but the clock was ticking. Neither could afford a loss, and winning was akin to what’s called “moving day” on the PGA tour. Play well and put yourself in contention at tournament’s (or season’s) end.
St. Henry was ranked 8th (the final spot) in Division VI, Region 24.
Anna was ranked three spots higher, 5th, in Division V, Region 20.
Rockets’ head coach Nick Marino is in his first year of the MAC madness down the stretch.
Redskins’ coach Brad Luthman was trying to get over the hump of what must feel like a kiss-your-sister habit of 6-4 seasons. And six games into the season, as Yogi said, was getting late.
With so much on the line, the outcome was not only epic, but so too, the way it happened. St. Henry came away with a 24-17 win in double overtime in a game that very nearly resembled a welterweight fight. Both teams played hard, hit hard, and made opportunistic plays at key points of the game to extend their respective prospect of winning.
But in the end, three significant turnovers, all interceptions of Anna quarterback Travis Meyer…and the play of an indefatigable running back, St. Henry’s Ryan Luttmer…spelled the difference and allowed the Redskins to beat that ticking clock, at least for a week.
Anna opened with a 27-yard field goal by Aidan Endsley to go up 3-0.
But after trading punts, St. Henry put together a 56-yard drive culminated by a 1-yard run for a score by Jaren Fishbaugh, 7-3.
The game marked the return of Anna quarterback Travis Meyer, who sat out last week’s game with Marion with a sore knee. He made his presence felt on the next possession, hooking up with a wide-open Caleb Kauffman for a 50-yard touchdown pass to retake the lead, 10-7.
But St. Henry, who always fashions itself a run-first team, came right back to score with 1:51 left before the half, again with Luttmer cashing in from just outside the goal line…14-10.
Meyer was not to be outdone and quickly moved Anna into striking position at the St. Henry 25 yard line. But with just seconds remaining before the break the Redskins’ Tyler Schlarman stepped in front of a screen pass and picked it off, ending the half.
Meyer came right back on the attack in the third quarter, engineering a quick touchdown strike, converting a key third down with a 23 yard first down; and on the very next play Endsley broke one off right tackle for a 54 yard touchdown run to take the lead for a third time, 17-14.
Both teams exchanged possession via punts until the 2:00 mark when St. Henry drove to the Anna 11 and stalled. Luttmer (who else?) cashed in with a 28-yard field goal that just made it just inside the left upright.
Both teams threatened in the fourth quarter, but penalties, turnovers, and stout defense on both sides kept the quarter scoreless.
But St. Henry missed a golden opportunity with 5:12 remaining, moving the ball to Anna 5 yard line, where on fourth and one, instead of kicking the go-ahead field goal the ‘Skins were stopped a foot short of the first down. Ultimately Anna pinned St. Henry inside their 10 yard line with with a punt and 50 seconds remaining…and the Redskins simply ran off time to send the game into overtime.
At which point it got interesting. Anna got the first possession and on the Rockets’ second play Meyer was again picked off by Schlarman to turn possession back to St. Henry.
But on the Redskins’ second play Ryan Luttmer fumbled the ball, ending the first overtime period.
St. Henry got the first possession in the second period and after going backwards on their first two plays, quarterback Daylon Lange, who had managed the offense efficiently throughout the game, found teammate Ryan Breuning on a skinny post route wide open for a 24-yard touchdown and the lead, 24-17.
“We call it ‘four verticals'”, said St. Henry coach Brad Luthman. “But that’s what it is, a post route. The funny thing is my first two years we haven’t had much success with that play. But this year we’ve had a ten-minute period every day in practice where we run this play against all kinds of coverages. We talked about it at halftime, that if they overplay the tight end be ready to come back to the post, and that’s what happened.”
Anna went ‘ofer’ on their first two plays from scrimmage when they got the ball. And on third and ten Meyer looked into the St. Henry secondary and threw the ball right into the chest of defensive back Connor Bruggeman, who deflected the ball up in the air and came down with it the interception to end the game…and for now, stop the clock.
Daylon Lange was breathless in describing the play that had won the game.
“We had been running them up the seams, and that time the safety bit. I took the second read and hit him (Breuning) right down the middle.”
Breuning, who was wide open at the five yard line, confessed that the hardest part was just waiting on the ball to get there.
“I told myself to just focus on the ball…look it in and get the score. I had a chance to put our team on top.”
For Luthman’s part, he was praying for a chance at some redemption, kicking himself for not kicking the field goal when he had the ball fourth and one on the five late in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve been a part of some memorable games, but the reason this one really means something is because I made a stupid call on that fourth and one. I’ve got a kicker that I trust to kick it from 45 and I wouldn’t kick it from the five yard line. I asked the kids right before the overtime to bail me out. I told them I made a stupid decision and we should be in the showers, not overtime. Thank God they did.
“We thought we’d been leaning on them with the running game; we thought we could move ’em back one more time for a first down and keep going. But we went to the well once too often with the fullback dive and they stopped it.”
In football terms, St. Henry took the fifth – their fifth win of the season – which now gives them three games (St. John’s, Marion, and Ft. Recovery) to make as much or as little of their season as possible. It’s clearly in their hands…six, seven, or as many as eight wins and enough points against good competition to qualify for the post-season. Moreover, by winning they took put the Rockets in a position of having very little wiggle room in their remaining three games.
“We’ve been 4-2 before,” said Luthman. “We’ve been there and we know how hard the season can be to close out. We haven’t done that yet. We know what this stretch means and to start it off with a win like tonight is huge. Credit Coach Marino and Anna, they had an excellent game plan for tonight, but thankfully our guys had one more play at the end.”
In his four years at St. Henry, Luthman and the ‘Skins had never won a significant game with Press Pros on hand to write it. And trust it, coaches notice things like that and call it to your attention.
“You know, we finally took a big one down tonight with you here,” Luthman concluded with a grin. “Maybe the curse is broken.”
Or maybe…the clock just stopped ticking. For now, at least, Brad Luthman and St. Henry are in a very good place.