When the Go-Hawks reached fourth-and-1 at the New Hampton 37-yard-line, trailing 13-6 with 2 minutes to go, the difference between an agonizing evening and a redemptive turnaround appeared to rest on one play.
Waverly-Shell Rock had spent the entire game trailing but had one last chance to flip the script. Senior quarterback Ethan Flege had just gutsily returned from a left arm injury.
And after struggling to find the end zone all game, the Go-Hawks could drive out the bad taste in their mouths and end a two-game losing streak.
But good stories don’t win football games.
Flege took the snap, and senior Cael White swooped around the backfield and took the end-around handoff. The tight end had room to run and saw daylight, but one Chickasaw defender stepped up and made the biggest tackle of the game.
“They (Chickasaws) were overplaying,” W-SR coach Mark Hubbard said. “I thought we could hit them with the end-around and fool them. One kid stayed home, and credit to them.”
It was the third turnover on downs of the night for the Go-Hawks, who ultimately lost 13-6. W-SR falls to 1-3, while New Hampton evened its record to 2-2.
After starting the season with a win, the Go-Hawks have now lost three straight games.
“I think our kids played hard,” Hubbard said. “I thought our kids practiced hard during the week. I just feel like we didn’t execute as well as we needed to at different times.”
While it put up just half a dozen points, the problem for W-SR wasn’t an inability to move the ball Friday.
It gained 250 total yards to New Hampton’s 147. The Go-Hawks recorded 13 first downs, rushed for 152 yards and averaged 4.4 yards per play.
But as has been the case for the last three games, Waverly-Shell Rock struggled to finish and put points on the board.
“New Hampton played real hard,” said Flege, who completed 8 of 18 pass attempts for 98 yards. “In the first half, we came out slow and didn’t put up any points. And then in the second half we were trying to claw our way back and came up short. Just a little frustrated right now.”
Senior running back Payton Leonard was able to find the end-zone on a 6-yard rush midway through the third quarter, but that was the only time W-SR found the promised land. The Go-Hawks missed the extra point following the score.
The Go-Hawks punted the ball four times and went 2-11 on third down conversions. They turned the ball over on downs three times. They’re now averaging 7.3 points over the last three games.
But regardless of the result, it was an impressive effort from the Go-Hawks, who overcame a scoreless first-half to make it a game in the second.
W-SR went down 7-0 early, with New Hampton quarterback Mason Lane dropping a perfect touchdown pass on a corner fade to Drake Wemark with 1:58 left in the first quarter.
Lane had a sharp night, completing 11 of 17 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. Wemark was even more impressive, catching seven passes for 99 yards and a touchdown, including a one-handed catch in the fourth quarter.
But Hubbard wasn’t as worried about stopping those two as much as New Hampton’s running back Carter Ferrie, who came into the game with 285 yards on the ground.
New Hampton fed Ferrie all night, but Waverly-Shell Rock stopped Ferrie, and then some. The junior rushed the ball 23 times for just 22 yards, and his longest run was for six yards.
“I thought our defense held him down really well,” Hubbard said.
The Go-Hawks defense knew what was coming and were able to take away New Hampton’s greatest strength. However, Ferrie did end up scoring the touchdown that ultimately gave the Chickasaws the win with 8 minutes left in the fourth.
While W-SR usually hands the ball off to the Wessel twins, it was Leonard and Cayden Langreck who received the bulk of the carries Friday night, both with some success. The two backs combined for 22 attempts for 74 yards.
Leonard’s touchdown in the third was especially meaningful for him.
“It felt pretty good,” Leonard said. “It’s my first ever touchdown on varsity because I didn’t play offense last year. Just having all the guys coming around you and saying good job, and me coming back to the lineman saying great blocking. It’s just great fun in there.”
Waverly-Shell Rock can look back on this game and see several positives. It found a way to move the ball on offense and played great defense against the run.
But finding ways to score points is what the team really needs. It’ll have a chance to turn things around when it plays at Decorah on Sept. 27.