Stark County needed another big performance this week to get past the #1 seed Deer-Creek Mackinaw Chiefs, and they got it.
The Rebels put together a come from behind drive late in the fourth quarter for a one point 29-28 victory over Dee-Mack, advancing them to the quarterfinals in the 2A playoffs.
Stark County started the game with the ball, but was unable to move down the field before a short punt to the Dee-Mack 41 yard line.
After moving back 10 yards for a penalty, the Chiefs went to work, finding open a receiver for 20 yards and then getting a little help on a Stark County defensive penalty before working the pigskin in from the 6 yard line, 0-8. Dee-Mack lead after a successful two-point conversion and had burnt half of the first quarter clock.
Stark County answered right back, thanks to a kickoff return by Danny Berchtold that put the Rebels on the Dee-Mack 44. From there, quarterback Justin Kohler ran 56 yards down the Rebels’ sideline for the touchdown. A two point conversion attempt failed and Stark County trailed 6-8 with 5:44 left in the first quarter.
Defensively, the Rebels were then able to break up a pass and force the Chiefs to punt away. The ball was downed at the Stark County 6 yard line and pinned the Rebels deep in their own territory.
On 3rd and 7, the Rebels were stopped behind the line and forced to also punt the ball away and into the wind. Dee-Mack then fumbled the ball and Stark County recovered at their own 36 yard line.
With his incredible power, Dalton Miller then ran through tacklers, 57 yards and down to the 7 yard line.
“He made a great play and did a lot of the little things, like taking shots on fakes,” said Coach Noard. “We had to find other ways to get him involved, because after his big game last week, we knew they would try to take him away.”
After several short runs, Kohler punched it in on a keeper from 1 yard out. The two point conversion throw to Bryce Paxson was good as well, Stark County lead 14-8 with :29 left in the first quarter.
Then on a four minutes drive, Dee-Mack marched down the field and evened things back up at 14, after missing their two-point conversion attempt.
After so much constant action on the field, the Rebels showed some signs of fatigue on their next possession with a couple of pass plays that ended with miscommunications. Stark County punted away, but the ball ended up in the end zone for a touchback.
“We kept hitting Evans (of Dee-Mack) and I think he might have gotten dinged up, but I think we just both wore each other out there,” said Coach Noard. “That first half was just a track meet. We like to run the hurry up offense and make the other team tired, but I think we did that to each other.”
Dee-Mack, from the 20 yard line, found favor on their left side and wore away at the Rebel defense’s right side, first for 17 yards, and then concluding with a 19 yard run up the middle for the game’s fifth touchdown, 14-22. The two point conversion was successful with a pass to the end zone, even after a holding penalty pushed them back 10 yards.
Stark County wanted to get a response and tie things back up before going into the half and they had just over four minutes to do it.
James Butts got things going in the right direction with a return to the 40 yard line, but a penalty spotted the ball and started the drive at the 29.
Miller did a lot of the work then getting the Rebels down to the 23. Then a short pass to Bryce Willis got the Rebels a first down and into the red zone. Kohler finally connected with Brandon Lee from 12 yards out to make the game 20-22. The Rebels gave the ball to Miller around the right side for the two point conversion and he was able to scamper in for the tie, 22 all with :48 left.
“I’m sure Kohler’s number didn’t stand out, but he put the ball where it needed to be to pick up the first downs,” said Coach Noard of his junior quarterback.
After the half, Dee-Mack started with the ball, but turned around and started hurting themselves with penalties left and right. Stark County took over possession on downs after an illegal shift.
On their next possession, Dee-Mack fumbled but recovered their own drop and then made the Rebels pay by finding an open guy in the middle of the field and completing a pass to the Stark County 39.
The Chiefs then stretched the ball into the end zone on a 2 yard run, but came up short on a huge two point conversion play, 22-28 with 4:21.
The Rebels, now down just a touchdown, turned to their passing game to regain the lead.
“Listening to them during the week, we figured we probably were going to have to throw it,” said Coach Noard. “After the game we had last week, we figured they’d line up and deny the run, so we were prepared to throw.”
Stark County picked up two short first downs, but after the quarter switch, a completed pass to Cody Price came out of his hands and Dee-Mack recovered.
Defensively, the Rebels made a huge stop and took over on downs, but soon punted the ball away.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Rebels made their second impressive defensive stand and forced Dee-Mack to punt again, but it only went 8 yards.
From the 32 yard line, Kohler ran down to the 22, then connected with Price to the 11. On a 4th and short from the 1 yard line, Kohler kept it and not only got the first down, but the tying touchdown, 28-28 with 2:46 left.
Noah Locher was sent in to kick with the wind at his back and he made good, putting the Rebels up 29-28.
Dee-Mack attempted to hurry up make something happened and instead they had a pass picked off by Miller. The Rebels were able to run out the rest of the clock for the win, 29-28.
“That was just an unbelievable job of both teams, just playing as hard as they could all game,” said Coach Noard, still catching his breath after the game. “That’s as good of a game I’ve seen in awhile. One point… we did what we had to do that last time we had it. It wasn’t easy, seemed like we were grinding out those first downs, but our kids kept coming.”
Kohler was 13 for 25 passing for 160 yards, and rushed 90 yards. The Rebels had a total of 128 yards on the ground, compared to Dee-Mack’s 289, but had more in the air, 160 to 101.
Miller and Paxson led the team with 11 tackles each.
Prior to knowing the outcome of the Elmwood-Brimfield/Mercer County game that determined who the Rebels would play, Coach Noard was just happy to be in the next round.
“Whoever it is, we are just real happy to be in the quarters. Our kids are going to be fired up. We haven’t had a 2A win in this program until this year and now we are down to the final eight. I know our kids would love to have the second chance at them.”
And the Rebels will get that second chance at Mercer County this coming weekend as they once again travel there to face the Golden Eagles.