WATERLOO — Friday night's game was one that the Waverly-Shell Rock football team needed to win.
Entering their Class 3A District 3 contest against Waterloo East with a 2-4 record but 1-1 in the district, the Go-Hawks had to win out, including a win at home next week against Independence, and hope Decorah loses two of their final three.
However, Dylan Reyes, Kjuan Owens and the rest of the Trojans had something to say about that.
W-SR built a 10-0 lead, but then East scored 14 unanswered to take the win, 14-10, at a very cold and windy Memorial Stadium.
Go-Hawk head coach Mark Hubbard said the result came down to execution.
“We had to take advantage of opportunities, and when you don’t, it will come back to bite (you),” Hubbard said. “We’d run a beautiful play and get yards on it three times and on the fourth time, you don’t. We just didn’t execute (Friday) at all.
“We had the ball down in the red zone (inside the 20-yard line) a lot, an we weren’t able to make enough plays. You’ve got to give East High some credit. They ran some different things defensively, too.”
The game started off great for the Go-Hawks (2-5, 1-2). Kicker Noah Jeppesen toed the ball somewhere between an on-side and squib kick that bounced over and around two Trojan (3-4, 2-1) receivers. As the ball remained loose, Tyler McNally recovered the ball on the East 32-yard line to bring the Black-and-Gold out onto the field on offense instead of the Black-and-Orange.
To some astute observers, that play would hearken back to Super Bowl XLIV, when Sean Payton had his New Orleans Saints perfectly execute an onside kick to start the third quarter, surprising everyone in the football world. That helped New Orleans defeat the Indianapolis Colts, 31-14, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
Hubbard, however, simply saw something on East’s game film that suggested there would be an opening for that play on Friday.
“We thought the ball would bounce around on the (artificial) turf,” he said. “It was fun to see the kids execute that.”
W-SR was able to gain only 16 yards in the ensuing drive, so with the wind at the Go-Hawks' backs, head coach Mark Hubbard sent Jeppesen out to kick a 33-yard field goal. The kick was true, putting W-SR up 3-0 with 9 minutes, 6 seconds left in the opening period.
After benefiting from a fair-catch interference on a Trojan punt, the Go-Hawks drove to the East 11, but McCrae Hagarty coughed up the football, which the Trojans pounced on for the turnover. However, East went three-and-out.
W-SR had a long drove that straddled the quarters, and they got to the Trojan 32. But, on fourth-and-6, Hagarty only gained 2 yards to turn the ball over on downs.
The Go-Hawks got the ball right back just three plays later. Reyes' pass went through the hands of Muhammad and right into the mitts of Layne McDonald for the interception at the Trojan 36. Four plays afterward, McDonald capped the drive with an 18-yard seam pass from Ethan Flege to put the score at 10-0 with 9:11 left before intermission.
East, though, came right back quickly. A 26-yard run by Owens, a 37-yard pass from Reyes to Tyrell Newman and then a 3-yard run by Reyes for the score put the Trojans right back into the game with 5:21 left in the half.
The teams traded three-and-outs before the Go-Hawks got to the East 25 in eight plays from their own 27. However, a 2-yard loss on Hagarty and an incomplete pass from Flege to McNally on third and fourth downs gave the ball back to the Trojans, who ran out the clock to end the half down 10-7.
W-SR started with the ball in the third quarter, from their own 12. They punted after three plays, but returner Ramir Scott lost 5 yards on the runback, and then Payton Leonard stripped the ball, with Hagarty pouncing on it to revive the drive on the East 32. Eight plays later, on a fourth-and-goal from the 1, Hagarty put the ball on the turf again, recovered by Ta'Darius Sykes to kill the scoring opportunity.
Neither team ended up scoring in the third quarter.
East took the lead early in the fourth quarter on a four-play, 51-yard possession following a short punt by the Go-Hawks. Reyes connected with Ramir Scott for 7 and Owens for 27 to set up first-and-10 from the 17. Then Owens took it the rest of the way from 8 and 9 yards to give the Trojans a 14-10 lead with 10:13 to go.
The Go-Hawks had another opportunity to score on a 10-play drive that started on their 26. Flege found Cael White for a 29-yard pass on the third play of the possession to put the ball on the East 35, and once more for 20 yards on a third-and-7 from the 32 to set up first down on the 12. However, a 2-yard loss and a pair of incompletions left fourth-and-12 from the 14. Flege connected again with White for what seemed to those rooting for W-SR to be a first down at the 2, but the officials marked it 6 inches shy of the sticks for the loss on downs with 5:30 left.
Even though the Go-Hawks had just one timeout, they still had a shot if they stopped the Trojans. East got the ball out to their 30, but on fourth-an-inches, Reyes was stuffed at the line to give the ball back to W-SR with 2:21 left.
On first down, a pass to White fell incomplete, but Flege was roughed on the play to cut the distance to the Trojan 15 and a new set of downs. Hagarty gained 7 on first down, but then he fumbled again, with Joe Spates recovering to clinch the game for East.
Hubbard said his team just needed to do better in the execution in short-yardage or goal-to-go situations.
“It’s obviously frustrating, but they’re good kids, they’re resilient, and they’ll keep coming back,” he said.
The Go-Hawks had the upper hand in most of the statistical categories. They gained 251 yards of total offense on 66 plays compared to the Trojans’ 201 on 44. They also had the ball for 29:24 versus East with 18:36. However, W-SR turned the ball over three times, all on fumbles, while taking the pigskin away twice.
Flege ended the night with 7 of 22 passing for 113 yards and a touchdown and was not sacked while also running the ball four times for a net 2 yards. White hauled in four of the passes for 65 yards, while Burks had a 24-yard catch, McDonald had his 18-yard TD grab, and McNally had a reception for 6 yards. Hagarty had 37 carries for 121 yards, Donovan Wessel had a pair of hauls for 2 net yards, and Jonathan Wessel had a 2-yard tote.
Hubbard praised how Hagarty, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound freshman, handled himself for his second start in the backfield.
“He just gets better every time he goes out,” Hubbard said. “He needs to continue to work hard, and he will, and he’ll continue to develop.”
For East, Reyes was 8 for 16 for 95 yards with an interception and two sacks, which were part of his six carries for 14 net yards and a touchdown. Owens had 19 rushes for 94 yards and a score along with two catches for 48 yards, while Alexander Glover ran twice and had a net loss of 1 yard. Newmann had three catches for 45 yards, Brendan Stigler had a 4-yard reception, Ahkil Muhammad had a 3-yard grab, and Scott had a catch for 5-yard loss.
Owens, a sophomore listed at 6-foot-1, 228 pounds, was tough for some of the Go-Hawks to bring down. Hubbard said the Trojan was the largest running back they’ve had to defend so far.
“He’s extremely powerful,” he said.
Defensively, Jacob Hanley led the Trojans with 11.5 tackles, including 10 solo stops, while Christian Zearing added 8.5 tackles with six solos and a fumble recovery. Alexander Glover and Sykes also were credited with scoops. For W-SR, Donovan Wessel led with five total tackles, with three by himself, while Cole Kramer added 4.5 tackles, two solo, and 1.5 for loss. Leonard had a sack for a 10-yard loss and a forced fumble on a punt return to go for his three-tackle effort, with two solo, while Carpenter also recorded a sack.
With the defeat, the Go-Hawks won’t make the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Next up for the Go-Hawks is a home date with Independence (7-0, 3-0) on Friday at Go-Hawk Stadium, which will be senior night.
Hubbard said he plans to prepare the team the same way any other week for the game itself.
“You go back to work and you keep fighting and keep developing players,” he said. “There’s a good part of that football game (Friday) where we had two ninth-graders in the backfield.
“It’s the last home game for our seniors (versus Independence). That should be motivation enough.”
He assured the fans that his squad has good kids from good homes.
“There was a lot of good Go-Hawk support here (Friday), as always,” he said. “It was a cold football game to sit through. The kids did a great job in the student section, and our guys on the sidelines did a great job.
“We just didn’t make enough plays, and the execution of an offensive football play or a defensive football play, we just weren’t executing as well as we needed to be. We have to have a look at it as coaches and say where we can do better as coaches and where we can do better as players and come back to work next week.”