Thanksgiving football may be the best football. The No. 13 Coleman Bluecats and No. 4 Canadian Wildcats proved it when they went toe to toe on Black Friday for the regional championship.
A defensive battle for most of the game, the decisive plays came down to special teams when a missed extra point by the Bluecats would ultimately decide the victor.
“We knew they were a good team with a lot of talent,” said senior Trae Dwyer Krehbiel. “Early on in the year, I think they were missing a few guys when they played their rivals.”
Coleman wasted no time pressuring Air Canada as the Bluecats came away with an interception and short field position on the opening drive, but the Wildcat defense held steady, stuffing the quarterback on fourth-and-three inside the red zone.
Then, quarterback Corbin Douthitt (10-20, 129 yds, 3 TD, INT) and the offense went to work. The triggerman connected on passes of 12, 10 and 11 yards while running back Chris Jones (13 car, 73 yds) and wide receiver Cameron Copley (3 rec, 27 yds) added runs of 8 and 11 yards. Douthitt then heaved a 26-yard fade into the front of the end zone, and Manny Ramsey (6 rec, 78 yds, 2 TD) climbed the ladder to come down with the contested pass.
“They had two people over Cameron,” said Ramsey. “Coach Koetting called my play, and when I heard that, I was just pumped. It was awesome when I went up and got it. Great feeling.”
Back-and-forth, the defenses held off their opponent until the second quarter when Coleman put together a 13-play grueling drive that ended in a 4-yard ground-and-pound by Trey Sartain who broke four tackles on his way to pay dirt.
“We knew Coleman was a great team,” said Ramsey. “[Hammonds] and [Riley Harris] are really athletic and great players. All those guys are hard to bring down. They put [Steffey] in the backfield and handed it to him almost every play. Our secondary came in when they needed to and made some great stops.”
But Canadian immediately answered as Douthitt found the Man of Steel on the exact same play for a another 20-yard touchdown.
This gave the Wildcats a 14-7 lead headed into the locker room at the half, but returning in the third quarter, Canadian’s offense sputtered with back-to-back three-and-outs. Unable to pull away, the Blackade defense finally buckled again as they received heavy dosages of Cayden Steffey, Sartain, and Bryson Hammonds before a play-action dive fooled the Wildcats just enough to allow Hammonds to lob a perfect fade into the hands of Darrian Hunter in the back of the end zone.
Now a 1-point game, Canadian, never to hold anything back, gave a full-out effort to block the ensuing kick. The rush was enough to unnerve the Bluecat kicker who, as if kicking a can down the road, biffed the field goal wide-right.
The Wildcats maintained a lead, but in an attempt to pull away late in the game, Canadian put together a wide-receiver pass that the Bluecats never really bit on, and Hammonds came down with the interception.
Coleman never capitalized though, and the Wildcats had one more trick up their sleeve. On third-and-short, the offense lined up in their signature jumbo package and the Bluecats took the bait. Holton Hufstedler found some space, and under heavy duress from four rushers, Douthitt got the pass off and Hufstedler raced down the sideline 24 yards, diving into the pylon to extend the lead to 8 with a little less than six minutes left in the game.
“That was huge by Holton,” said Ramsey. “He’s been doing great things for us this year, offensively. He just came in clutch on a big play, third-and-short. They thought we were going to run it because we’re in jumbo. He came in clutch.”
But every time the Bluecats appeared dead in the water, they scrapped their way back into the thick of it. Another 11-play drive had Coleman knocking on the door. A secondary miscue, and Hammonds threaded the needle betwixt five Canadian defenders and Terren Holloway had the Bluecats back within 2.
Coleman took two timeouts in an attempt to figure out the Wildcat defensive scheme before attempting the two-point conversion.
They figured wrong. Hammonds faked the handoff and rolled to the right only to be met with a full-gallop Cade Throgmorton (9 tkls, TFL). Hammonds hit the brakes and veered to the opposite side of the field. Wyatt Bishop (9 tkls, TFL, sack), Brenden Wyatt (9 tkl, TFL), Throgmorton, Bryce Chidester (9 tkls) and Dwyer-Krehbiel (4 tkls) were all in hot pursuit. The Bluecat turned upfield and was blasted out of bounds by Dwyer-Krehbiel, well short of the goal line.
“It looked like he was running out to his right,” said Dwyer-Krehbiel. “My guy was blocking down so I just stayed, patiently. I saw him come back around and I met him at the goal line. Just trying to find a way.”
The Wildcat sideline rushed to their playmaker and the typically composed team erupted in celebratory fashion.
A well-placed onside kick left the Wildcat stands breathless as Ramsey raced two Bluecats downfield before falling on the errant pigskin.
“I wasn’t expecting it to bounce that high,” said Ramsey, “but as soon as I saw it go over my head, I just turned around. I didn’t care about who was behind me. Just full throttle to the ball and dive on it. I was pumped. I got up and started screaming.”
The teams matched up evenly in almost every statistic, but the Wildcats ability to consistently throw the ball for yardage ended up being the difference as Canadian out-passed Coleman 129-58.
“The bottom line is we just made plays when we needed to,” said Wildcat Head Coach Chris Koetting. “When we needed someone to step up and make a play, they did it. It was an evenly-matched game. Both teams did good things, both teams did bad things. We executed when we needed to.”
Photos by Peyton Aufill
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