With Oakfield-Alabama and Cal-Mum trading scores through the first three quarters of their quarterfinal sectional playoff game tonight, and both teams seemingly able to run the ball at will, it became evident as the fourth quarter started that the winner would be decided when one defense or the other made a stand and stopped a drive.
And that's exactly what happened.
On its first drive of the fourth quarter, the Hornets couldn't get past the Red Raiders 40 yard line and Cal-Mum took over on downs.
Minutes later, the Red Raiders were in the end zone and with a two-point conversion, and obtained what would prove to be an insurmountable lead, 30-21.
The Hornets would score one more touchdown, but fall short by two points, 30-28.
"It came down to them just pounding the ball at us and not getting away from what they do best," said Hornets Head Coach Brian Palone after the game. "They made the plays when they needed to make the plays."
The two-point margin can also be explained by two failed point after attempts. In the second quarter, kicker Jon Fisher hit an upright, and in the third quarter, a high snap spoiled the attempt.
The Hornets got off to a quick start when Fisher placed a perfect onside kick down the far sideline and OA scrambled and took possession of the ball.
The offense then marched the ball 45-yards down the field for a score and a 7-0 lead. Matt Osmancickli scored that TD on a one-yard run.
But the home team answered right back, bringing the ball down to the one-yard line, where Trevor Haut was able to shove his way into the endzone. Cal-Mum tried for a two-point conversion, so the score was 7-6.
On its first possession of the second quarter, OA again looked like an offense with an unbeatable run game, taking the ball down the field until Matt Osmancickli capped the drive with a one-yard TD rush. After Fisher missed the PA, OA's lead was 13-6
Cal-Mum answered right back, putting a long drive together that ended with a Trevor Haut three-yard TD run. Jon Cappotelli carried the ball in on the two-point conversion, giving his team a one-point lead, 14-13.
OA grabbed back a one-point margin when a high snap on a Cal-Mum punt attempt was kicked out of the back of the end zone for a safety. That made the score 15-14 Hornets.
Both teams scored again in the third quarter. But with a muffed extra point attempt and a successful two-point conversion, Cal-Mum was able to convert another two-point try, so now the Raiders were up 22-21.
The Raiders were able to stop Oakfield-Alabama on its fourth-quarter drive and immediately answer back with another touch down. This time it was on a 19-yard pass from Mike Anderson to Dan Whiteside, plus they tacked on two-more points. The Hornets found themselves in a bit of a deep hole, down 30-21.
But OA kept fighting, engineering another drive that culminated in a one-yard rush by Osmancickli and an extra point from Fisher, making it 30-28, which is how the game would end.
The Hornets got off to a slow start this season with Coach Palone taking over the program for the first time and finding himself with few returning seniors. Palone and other coaches around the league will tell you that OA has been a team that has improved greatly every week as the season progressed.
Palone said tonight he's proud of the progress his team has made.
"I thought this was the best game we played all year and that’s all I can ask of them, to just get better every game," Palone said.
NOTE: About the video -- yes, I miss my high-def camera. It won't be repaired for another six weeks.