By Tom Williams
There was no doubt in Minerva football coach Dale Soles’ mind that his Lions would settle Friday’s Division III shootout against Poland in regulation.
Zach Wade’s 4-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 1:38 remaining sliced Poland’s lead to 28-27. Soles kept his offense on the field, then called timeout to discuss the biggest play of his career as the Lions were chasing their first postseason win.
Tailback Jake Riley took the snap and gave it to Wade who bulled into the end zone for Minerva’s winning points in a 29-28 victory in the Region 11 quarterfinal.
“We didn’t know if we could keep matching them,” Soles said of his decision. “With their line and running game, we didn’t want to keep trying to trade scores with them.”
Poland coach Mark Brungard wasn’t surprised at Soles’ decision.
“We were on our heels a little bit defensively,” said Brungard after the Bulldogs watched the Lions (11-0) march 80 yards on the drive. “They weren’t stopping our offense so it was the right call.”
Soles said he never considered sending Nate Smith out for a conversion kick.
“They were thinking about a play up in the box, we just wanted to get a look and see what they were lining up in,” Soles said of the timeout.
Out of timeouts, the Bulldogs weren’t finished as senior quarterback Colin Reardon led the Bulldogs (7-4) deep into Lions’ territory, hoping to give kicker Connor McFadden a field goal try.
Reardon’s final pass to wide receiver Jimmy Morocco picked up 14 yards to the Minerva 20, but time expired before the Bulldogs could snap the ball.
It was a heartbreaking finish to a fourth quarter that saw Poland execute an 80-yard touchdown and successful on side kick.
In the opening seconds of the final quarter, wide receiver Anthony Marchionda fought off 6-foot-5 defender Kyle Crum to haul in Reardon’s long throw to the Minerva 40 and then raced untouched for a 28-21 lead.
Brungard then rolled the dice with an onside kick.
“Connor does a good job with the kick, I’m pretty confident he’s going to put it where it needs to be,” Brungard said. “Their linemen were giving us quite a shot to get it. They were off the 50 about 4 yards.
“We missed the actual first attempt at the catch, it went over our guy’s head but [Austin Erhardt] jumped in there right before it went out of bounds,” Brungard said. “At that point, I felt really good. We had all the momentum.”
Reardon’s pooch punt pinned the Lions inside the 5 for their next possession. Jerry Lawman’s punt return to the Minerva 22 set up McFadden for a 31-yard field goal try with 5:51 to go. Reardon pulled down a high snap but was unable to turn the laces, resulting in a line-drive kick.
That’s when the Lions surged, marching to the Poland 1 where the Bulldogs stopped them three times.
“Give them credit,” Brungard said. “We had some bad penalties ... they couldn’t stop our run. Really, the only thing that stopped us was penalties.”