By Jon Moffett
Have you ever been in a bog?
Imagine walking on a foot of wet sponges. With every step, the ground squishes beneath your feet, soaking your shoes and slowing your progress. Now imagine trying to run in it. While carrying a slippery object. With 11 people chasing you.
That’s what Friday night was like for Connor Cleveland. The senior Jefferson Area High quarterback used every weapon in his arsenal to trudge his team on to victory and keep its playoffs hopes alive.
And every inch he earned in a 13-7 victory over host LaBrae seemed like a mile. The playing field looked more suited to house pigs rather than host a pigskin contest. Early afternoon storms left the gridiron a soupy, mushy mess, making it difficult for either team to gain any traction. But the Falcons (6-2) got just enough to pull the win out of the muck.
“During warm-ups, we had so much fun just kicking the ball and watching it just stick in the ground,” Cleveland said. “But out there, your feet sink in and you’d be up to your ankles in that stuff in some spots.”
Cleveland was the game’s biggest weapon. When the mud grounded Matt Szorady and the Vikings’ (5-3) rushing attack, Cleveland prevailed. Though his stats weren’t overly spectacular (58 yards on 21 carries) his runs came at critical times. His 9-yard scamper in the third quarter put the first points on the board. And his maneuverability in the pocket helped him evade the heavy-footed pass rush.
And Cleveland’s ability to scramble bought him some extra time. On the deciding play in the fourth quarter, Cleveland was able to find junior wideout Jacob Hamilton in the corner of the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Vikings coach Bill Bohren said it would have been tough for any team to play, regardless of scheme or talent.
“[Field conditions] were terrible. Our field was in bad shape,” said, Bohren who admitted the turf was a hindrance, but not a deciding factor. “Cleveland scrambles around a lot and I would say [our ratio] is probably 60-40 run versus the pass.”
Szorady, the senior power back, had trouble finding running room. His 48 yards on 22 carries led the team. But it was his receiving skills (four catches for 63 yards) that got the offense moving late.
The Vikings faced a “first-and-game” situation at the Jefferson 5-yard line with one second remaining on the clock. Sophomore quarterback Peyton Aldridge again looked for Szorady, as he did three times on the final drive — which began with 33 seconds remaining. But the pass slipped through Szorady’s hands with the help of some Jefferson defense to seal the win.