WAPAKONETA — Both Wapakoneta and Springfield Shawnee hung on for dear life Friday.
But while Shawnee’s knuckles merely went white, Wapakoneta couldn’t quite hold on at the very end. Shawnee scored a touchdown and an extra point in overtime and then stopped Wapakoneta on its possession to win a Division III regional quarterfinal football game 41-34 at Harmon Field.
Shawnee (10-1) moves into the regional semifinals next week while Wapakoneta ends its season 9-2.
Following a wild end to the fourth quarter that finished with Wapak’s Bailey Hinegardner booting a 34-yard field goal to force a 34-34 tie for OT, Shawnee had the ball first.
After five plays got the Braves to the 6-yard line for fourth-and-goal, backup quarterback Alec Bennett hit David Barnett for a touchdown pass. Kaitlin Gregory kicked the extra point for a 41-34 lead.
Wapakoneta then moved the ball to the 3-yard line on five plays for its own fourth-and-goal try. The Redskins attempted a quick out pass but the protection broke down and quarterback Kodi Morgan was left scrambling for his life. After a slew of blocks and near-tackles, Morgan ran around the left side and was attempting a pass when the ball was tipped away and out of bounds to end the game.
“I’m proud of the kids, it was a good ballgame,” Wapakoneta coach Doug Frye said. “It’s just unfortunate we came out on the losing end.”
The Redskins trailed virtually the entire regulation and were sitting in a 28-18 deficit early in the fourth quarter before they began to dig their way to a late lead.
“I really felt pretty good at that point,” Frye said. “We were working field position. I knew we would make a play.”
With 8:33 remaining, the defense recovered a fumble from Bennett at the Shawnee 30-yard line. Wapak’s offense drove the rest of the way and scored on Zach Schmerge’s 1-yard run. Hinegardner’s extra point cut the lead to 28-24.
The Redskins defense then forced a punt and with 5:30 remaining, and the offense went to work again. Eleven plays later, Schmerge dove into the end zone from a yard out again to give Wapak a 31-28 lead following the extra point with only 1:38 left in the game.
“We could have let down at that point,” Shawnee coach Rick Meeks said. “But we fought back.”
Shawnee got the ball at its own 24-yard line and seemed to be stuck. However, after dinking and dunking to the 44-yard line, Wapakoneta was penalized for both pass interference and unsportsmanlike conduct following an incomplete pass. That put the ball on the Redskins’ 22-yard line with less than a minute remaining.
On the following play, Jalen Nelson ran for a touchdown to put his team back up 34-31 with all of 38 seconds left. Still, Wapakoneta had a final run left.
After a Shawnee unsportsmanlike penalty helped Wapak move to the Braves’ 40-yard line, Morgan found Cameron Lauck for a 23-yard pass to put the ball at the 17 with few seconds remaining. Following an incompletion, Hinegardner kicked the 34-yard field goal as time expired to set up overtime.
“This team since the Kenton ballgame (Week 2) has been an extremely resilient team,” Frye said. “We just did some things that were uncharacteristic of us. We never really got the right break at the right time. I’ve been in this position a number of times in the playoffs and when you’re playing a team that’s been there before, you really need to do the little things. And we didn’t do the little things tonight.”
Some big things that hurt Wapakoneta included losing two fumbles, one on the first play from scrimmage, and committing 70 yards in penalties. That certainly made it tough against a Shawnee offense that was quick and dangerous.
Starting quarterback Saalih Muhammad, who left with an injury late in the third quarter, ran for 135 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown that put Shawnee up 14-0 in the first quarter.
However, it was Nelson, a running back and middle linebacker, who turned in a giant effort. Not only did he make play after play on defense, but he also ran for 113 yards with touchdown runs of 16 and 22 yards.
“I thought Springfield played well, (Nelson) had a whale of a game,” Frye said. “He had to be the player of the game.”
Wapakoneta countered with its usual brutal rushing onslaught. Schmerge finished with 106 yards rushing on 23 carries with three touchdowns (5, 1, 1). Keaton Metz added 97 rushing yards while Morgan passed for 81 yards with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Logan Martin in the first quarter.
Hinegardner kicked field goals of 19 and 34 yards to go with two extra points.
“Both teams played hard, it’s a shame either team had to lose,” Meeks said. “Both teams made mistakes, both teams made crucial plays. They had us, we had them. We were just fortunate at the end to pull it out. They very well could have.”