Facing a six-point deficit with 95 yards to cover and just 2:07 to do it in, the Cascade football team faced an uphill battle of momentous proportions.
The Cougars had surrendered 20 unanswered points to visiting Beckman to see a 14-0 halftime lead turn into a 20-14 fourth-quarter disadvantage, and a block-to-the-back penalty had given them the ball on their own five-yard line with just over two minutes to play.
It was gut-check time to be sure. The home team reached down deep, scratched and clawed, and with 57 seconds remaining, Haris Hoffman found Reid Rausch with a pass just over the goal line to knot the score at 20-20. Caden Reinke then made the most pressure-packed extra-point kick of his varsity career to complete the Cougars’ 21-20 victory Friday.
“After two lackluster games the two previous Fridays, our guys decided to keep it exciting this week,” said coach Tim Frake.
The first half belonged to Cascade, who often lined up with an empty backfield due to running back Colby Holmes unavailable while nursing an injury. Nothing was going to slow down the Cougars on their opening drive though, as Hoffman pushed it over from two yards out to cap a 10-play drive.
A Rausch interception wrestled the ball away from Beckman on the Cascade 16-yard line late in the first quarter, and facing fourth-and-5 to begin the second period, Hoffman and Rausch combined for a 47-yard scoring pass and a 14-0 lead. An apparent Rausch punt return for a touchdown was called back because of a penalty, but Cascade took their lead into what was to become a very long intermission.
The kickoff had been moved up due to a very good chance of rain, and those rains came at halftime — along with lightning — and kept both sides in their locker rooms for an hour and 43 minutes.
Both squads faced traction and wet ball issues in the second half, but Beckman took the opening kickoff and got on the scoreboard with a 17-yard pass from Seamus O’Connor to Shawn Deutmeyer, with the extra point making it 14-7.
The Cougars fumbled on their next possession, and the Blazers made it a costly turnover, with O’Connor scoring on an eight-yard keeper and the extra-point kick making it 14-14 with 11:54 left.
Cascade gave the ball away again on their next possession, with a Hoffman throw being picked off, and again Beckman capitalized when Owen Grover broke away for a 29-yard scoring run. The ever-important PAT was blocked but the visitors had taken the 20-14 lead.
The biggest chunk of real estate on the winning drive came on a pass Hoffman lofted in the air from the Cascade 47, and Rausch went up and wrestled away from his defender at the Blazer 15, setting the stage for the late heroics.
“We played well enough in the first half to hold a bigger lead, but the rain delay changed the mindset of both teams,” Frake said. “To Beckman’s credit, they came out ready to play after the break and our guys couldn’t get back into a rhythm on either offense or defense.”
Of the Cougars’ composure late, Frake said, “The most important thing is we maintained our focus on the last drive and were able to punch it in for the winning score. We are not a perfect team but have played well enough to put ourselves in position with two games left to win a district title and reach our goal of making the playoffs.
Statistical leaders for the Cougars were: passing — Hoffman 17-for-25 for 274 yards and two TD’s, with one interception; receiving — Rausch 6-for-113 and two TD’s, Logan Otting 4-for-37, Brett Bower 4-for-29, Alex Aitchison 2-for-64 and Carter Green 1 for 31; rushing — Hoffman 15-for-22 and a TD, Jackson Knepper 4-for-18, Derrick Koppes 3-for-9 and Otting 2-for-6; tackles — Bower and Garron Barber 5.5, Otting and Green 5, Rausch 4 and Zach Ries 4, Ben Miller 3, Aitchison, Hoffman, Knepper and Tom Knepper 2.5; Kaleb Topping and Parker Wright 1.5; interceptions — Hoffman 2; PAT kicks — Reinke 3-for-3.
Cascade (5-2) plays at West Branch (6-1) Friday. The Bears blanked Northeast 28-0 Oct. 5.