Thursday night was yet another example that reality is frequently stranger than fiction.
In the virtual world, it’s universally accepted that a three touchdown deficit is game over. In real life, Nease (1-2) erased a 21-point fourth quarter deficit to Bishop Kenny and forced the non-district game to be decided with 19 seconds remaining.
Nease running back Jareem Wescott ran to his right, toward the boundary, but was met by Bishop Kenny’s Michael Munder behind the line of scrimmage, thwarting the Panthers’ two-point conversion and giving the visiting Crusaders a 21-20 victory.
That the Panthers could come back the way they did was a slight balm to the bruise of losing.
“It’s great. We hadn’t scored that entire first half,” said Nease tight end Zach Sheffer. “We rallied together, got a couple of big plays in and kept on going. We don’t care we want to get the win. It’s tough we didn’t get it. I don’t regret it at all.”
During the first three quarters Sheffer didn’t touch the football offensively, as Nease once again used its version of the wildcat offense. In the fourth, the Louisiana State commitment exhibited why he will be a Bayou Bengal next year with a forced fumble, tackle for loss as well as six carries for 33 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Sheffer’s nine-yard run into the teeth of the Crusaders defense with 19.2 seconds remaining set up the dramatic conclusion. However, it was his forced fumble with eight minutes remaining that made the comeback possible.
Bishop Kenny (3-0) took a 21-0 lead into the fourth quarter and was threatening to put the game away when Sheffer, who lined up at defensive end, stripped the ball away. Peyton Brocksmith came away from the football at Nease’s 45 yard line with 8:47 remaining.
“I felt we shifted the momentum and we went down and scored,” Brocksmith said.
Three plays later, Sheffer’s 13-yard run put the Panthers on the board. But, the Panthers were still staring a two-touchdown deficit in the face with seven minutes to play.
Collin Hartley’s ensuring kickoff was perfectly placed into space. By the time Bishop Kenny got onto the football a wave of green and gold was there to ensure the Crusaders couldn’t go anywhere. Bishop Kenny’s penultimate possession began at its own nine yard line with 7:49 remaining. Nease’s defense, forced a three-and-out for the third time on the night.
“Those kids just played hard the whole evening,” Krause said of his defense that held Bishop Kenny to 225 offensive yards and forced two turnovers. “They kept fighting on defense. There are some plays we would like to have back, but for the most part they played like crazy. They played incredible. That’s a good football team over there. It’s something we can gain a lot of confidence from that they fought and played hard. I just wish we would have got a W.”
Nease linebacker Rickey Smith tackled Zach Costner short of a first down on third and three with 5:57 left in the game. Panther pressure on the ensuring punt meant the kick only went 17 yards.
Despite being held to 59 first-half yards, the Panthers were able to take advantage of the short field. Jareem Wescott’s 10-yard touchdown run with 4:16 was possible because defensive tackle Johnny Bogle, who was playing offense, drove his blocker three yards deep into the end zone.
Bishop Kenny football coach Bobby Raulerson walked off the field with profound respect for Krause and the Panthers.
“I’ve coached long enough and been a part of these games where they are running the football and there is not much you can do to stop it and that’s where we were,” Raulerson said. “It came down to us having to make one play. Our guys figured what was coming, because they had so much success getting to the end zone. Give credit to Michael Munder of our defense who rose up and tackled a very good football player with that two-point conversion.”
Nease ran the ball 45 times for 237 yards. Wescott had the overwhelming majority of those carries, toting the ball 26 times for 124 yards and a touchdown. Ashton Wood, who spent most of the night receiving snaps had 13 carries for 80 yards, including a 33-yard run and a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter that set up scores.
Aaron Fudge led the Crusaders offensively. The wide receiver and cornerback intercepted Wood’s second pass of the game and took it 85-yards for a touchdown. Fudge’s 20-yard reception moved the visitors to the doorstep. Bishop Kenny quarterback Tucker Talbott ran in for a 1-yard touchdown on the next play, the first of two rushing scores for the quarterback.
“This is one of those games, this is what high school football is all about,” Munder said. “This is what it is in the movies and this is the game I’ve been waiting to play in. We got ahead early on them and they started killing us in the fourth quarter, but we stepped up. We’re a defense that bends, but we don’t break. We definitely stepped up and I can’t be more proud of my guys.”