Minster and Fort Recovery threw everything they had at each other in the D-VII Region 28 championship game. When the clock finally ran out, the Wildcats claimed their 7th straight win and a berth in the state semifinals next week.
Wapakoneta – It was, simply put, MAC football at its very best.
The Fort Recovery Indians and the Minster Wildcats, meeting for the fourth time in two years and for the second straight season in the regional final, left it all on the field Saturday night at Harmon Stadium in Wapakoneta.
Minster, the D-VI in 2014, scored on the last play of the first half and the first play from scrimmage of the second half to take a 14-point lead.
Fort Recovery, the defending D-VII champion, scored twice in the final four minutes to climb to within two points. The Wildcats batted away a two point conversion attempt, then Bryce Schmiesing made a leaping, one-handed grab of the Indians onside kick to preserve a 35-33 win that sends the Wildcats to the state semifinals against 12-1 McComb next Saturday night.
“That was a really good high school football game,” said an elated Minster coach Geron Stokes. “Kids were just playing. We would make a play, they would make a play. Fort Recovery makes us better. They are really-well coached, and they have some players.
“They made a ton of plays throughout the game,” said Fort Recovery coach Brent Niekamp. “We responded well, just not well enough. That’s the ballgame. We went back and forth all night, and we ended up 2 points short.”
After a defensive struggle in the first half, the offenses took control in the second. The two teams combined for 810 yards in total offense, and scored 7 touchdowns in the second half alone.
The fourth quarter in particular, was a whirlwind of offense.
Trailing 28-13 after 3, the Indians cut into the lead early in the final period. Caleb Martin found tight end Andrew Stocker over the middle, and he outran the Minster secondary for a 41 yard scoring play to make it 28-20.
Minster appeared to salt the game away midway thru the quarter. Starting at the Recovery 42 after a short punt, Bryce Schmiesing, kept under wraps most of the night by Recovery’s swarming defense, got loose around right end and raced 38 yards to the Indians 3. Quarterback Jared Huelsman, who was spectacular both on the ground and through the air, scored on the next play to make it 35-20 with 4:46 remaining.
“This is a great feeling,” said Huelsman, who threw for 201 yards on just nine completions. “Coach always says you play like you practice, and we have been practicing really well. We really wanted to get this one. They are a great team, and this is a great win for our team.
It took Fort Recovery exactly 39 seconds to give their fans renewed hope. Caleb Martin completed a pass for 15 yards to Cade Wendel, another for 20 yards to Will Homan, then Homan broke several tackles en route to a 26 yard score. Tyler Acheson’s extra point hit the left upright and bounced through, to make it 35-27.
The Indians got the ball back at their own 19 with 2:07 left. Again, the Wildcats had no answer for Martin, the Indians senior quarterback. He found Wendel for 33 yards on the key play of the drive, then scored on an 8 yard run with 1 minute left.
Down by two, Martin rolled to his right, but his pass was batted down in the end zone. Schmiesing’s leaping catch on the onside kick set off a big celebration on the Minster sidelines.
“Did you see Schmiesing make that play?” Stokes asked, shaking his head. “At this time of year, your players have to be players, we call them dudes. And they have been, haven’t they? But our role players, our freshmen, our practice guys, our practices have been elite. It’s just a testament to our guys’ character.”
“We just kept playing,” Huelsman said. “We knew they weren’t going away. Fortunately, we made one more play than they did.”
Minster’s opening drive was textbook. Huelsman, who finished with 133 yards on 25 carries, ran for 25 yards on his first carry of the night to kick start what turned out to be a 13 play, 67- yard march. Schmiesing scored from the three for the first score of the night.
Recovery got a huge break on the first play of the second quarter. Schmiesing failed to get off a punt and was tackled at the Minster 1. Homan scored the first of his three touchdowns on the next play to tie the game at 7. The 5-8, 170 junior finished with 167 yards on 24 carries.
The game swung in the final minutes of the first half. The Wildcats drove 51 yards in 7 plays in the final 2:25 of the half, with Huelsman scoring on the final play of the half. 14-7 Minster at the break.
Momentum really swung toward the Wildcats at the start of the second half. Recovery’s Robbie LeFevre fumbled the second half kickoff and Minster recovered at the 28. After a procedure penalty, Huelsman found Jonathan Niemeyer with a 33 yard scoring pass, and suddenly the Wildcats lead was 21-7.
“I don’t think that fumble hurt us momentum wise,” Niekamp stated. “I think we bounced back ok. I think the seven points hurt the most. If those 7 points aren’t on the board, then we are ok.”
The Wildcats have won 7 straight since a four game losing streak in which they were out-scored 158-71. Stokes said there was no talk of playoffs at that time of the season.
“We were a really bad football team, and we knew we were a really bad football team. But credit our kids. Most people can’t look at themselves in the mirror and say ‘I’m not very good at this, and let’s change and lets fix this’. They have, and I think it’s a lesson for everybody. Credit our eight seniors for really holding this thing together when we weren’t very good.”
“I’m proud of the way we came back,” said Niekamp. “I’m proud of the seniors and their careers. I’m proud of the expectations our program has now, that those guys helped put into place. Now we expect to be in games like this, on fields like this, against teams like this. This is normal for us now and it needs to stay that way. Our seniors are a special group of guys. They gave it all they had tonight, but we just didn’t make enough plays.”