Kent City Flies High on Big 4th Down Plays vs. Northpointe Christian
Former president and co-founder of the NFL, Steve Sabol, once wrote the following lines which became famous through the narration of John Facenda of NFL Films:
“(The autumn wind) growls as he storms the country,
A villain big and bold.
And the trees all shake and quiver and quake,
As he robs them of their gold.”
The trees were not the only things quivering last night at Ward Memorial Field in Kent City, MI as temperatures dipped into the upper 30’s early in the game and only became less palatable with a spattering of cold rain in the 4th quarter.
Fans from Northpointe and Kent City braved the conditions in thick coats and hats, huddling together in such tight quarters that the packed stadium still left room in the stands. Their dedication would be amply rewarded with four quarters of incredibly hard-fought football.
They say defense wins championships and that is perhaps more true in high school football than any other sport. The cold temperatures plagued both teams last night as hand dexterity and tactile grip on the ball both dropped with low temperatures and rain causing both teams to fight for field position more often than points. The temperatures almost assuredly led to the mass amount of times the ball found its way rolling around the turf in a game that seems likely to have been scored in the mid-30’s by both teams if held in August.
Things got kicked off with Northpointe receiving the opening kickoff. However, their first drive would not last long. Big run stops led to a passing situation for the Mustangs formidable air attack. Stout pressure came up the middle from the Kent City defensive line and chased NPC senior Qb Drew Wurn from the pocket before KC senior defensive lineman Jesus Hernandez ultimately brought him down for the sack.
It would go from bad to worse for the Mustangs on their opening drive. Backed up deep in their own territory, a fumbled long snap was nearly picked up by Kent City before the Northpointe punter was miraculously able to recover and rugby style kick it at least a dozen yards down field. This turn of events led to Kent City starting their opening drive already deep in Northpointe territory and it wasn’t long before the Eagles marched in for the touchdown on a one yard plunge by senior RB/LB Max Hudson.
The extra point was partially blocked and failed to cross the uprights, giving the Eagles a 6-0 lead early in the contest. On a night where points did not come easy, this early turn of events would prove fortuitous for the Eagles.
Successive defensive stops allowed Kent City to make several trips to the red zone throughout the first half, but turnovers or huge tackles for loss by Northpointe spurned their advance each time.
Both teams struggled to gain much momentum offensively the rest of the first half until Northpointe’s final drive.
The Mustangs started by moving the ball through the air, seemingly the only way they would be able to reliably move the ball downfield Friday night. However, the Mustangs found their stride and shredded their way down the field on the strength of Wurn’s big-time arm and clutch catches by NPC senior RB/Wr Josiah Dooley.
The passing attack brought the Mustangs within one yard of the end zone with four downs and under a minute to go in the half. The Mustangs were stopped on first and second down. Wurn attempted the slant pass to the end zone on third, but failed to complete it. That gave the Mustangs a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line and 20 seconds remaining in the half.
Both teams lined up ready to battle it out in the trenches. The old saying goes, “these are the times that try men’s souls.” While that may be a bit dramatic in this particular instance, this was undoubtedly one of the times that determine ball games. The Eagles front 8 pressed hard into the Mustangs offensive line and managed to stop Northpointe for a loss. The eagles took possession and a 6-0 lead into the half.
The second half was as much of a defensive slog as the first half. Kent City got the ball inside the NPC ten yard line before the Mustangs rallied with a big sack fumble on a bootlegging senior Qb, Eli Carlson. The Mustangs scooped the ball and looked prepared to take it 90+ yards for their first touchdown of the game when Hudson screamed across the field and laid a vicious tackle that brought the NPC ball carrier down around the 50 yard line.
This play set in motion a wild series of events that would see the ball changes hands several times in the course of just a few minutes. Wurn dropped back and tossed a pass down the left side of the field where it was intercepted by KC junior DB Bradley Brooks. The series of turnovers kept the back and forth going for another several minutes before Kent City finally managed to gain traction and drive the ball inside the ten again.
The Mustangs looked poised to stop their advance again and forced them into a 4th and 11 from the Northpointe 12 yard line. It seemed making the contest a two score game would be enough to secure a victory with the way both teams’ defenses were performing and this play would prove as important to sealing victory as the prior fourth down standoff to end the first half.
Pressure from the Mustangs was instantaneous as Carlson flushed deep out to the right and dumped off the pass to Hudson. The Eagles hopes appeared to be dashed when Hudson found himself staring down a defender almost instantly. However, Hudson showed what he has all season: he is dangerous in space.
Hudson shook the first defender and burst towards the end zone. Another Mustang defender tracked hard from the secondary and appeared ready to stop him just short of the first down. Hudson would not be denied, however, and showed once again that it takes a host of defenders to bring him down. Hudson barreled through the would-be tackler and spun his way into the end zone, giving the Eagles their second score of the night. The Eagles racked on two more points with Carlson bootlegging to the left and finding a wide open Hudson in the end zone to make the score 14-0 going into the 4th quarter.
The Mustangs were undeterred and swiftly marched towards the end zone. The drive appeared halted on multiple occasions as the Mustangs were backed up on penalties, resulting at one point in a 3rd and 26. However, the Mustangs showed what they had all night, when Wurn had time and momentum, they could move the ball through the air. Wurn tossed the ball deep down the left sideline, completing the pass for the first down. The Mustangs continued their drive and pushed into the end zone for the first time of the night. They followed their touchdown up with a two point conversion, which brought the game to 14-8.
The drive showed one thing for certain. If the Mustangs were left much time they had the tools to score, and do so in a hurry!
Kent City found themselves marching into the red zone again when Max Hudson trampled his way around the left end and barreled inside the ten where he was hit hard by multiple Mustang defenders, jarring the ball loose in the wet & cold conditions.
The Mustangs took possession. Within just a few plays, Wurn tossed a bomb to the end zone to the outstretched arms of his streaking receiver for the Mustangs second and lead-taking touchdown. However, celebration turned to dismay as eyes made their way to a small yellow flag back at the line of scrimmage. Holding on the offense. Results of the play waived off and a ten yard penalty.
The Eagles forced the punt and began a crucial drive. With just a few minutes left and a 14-8 lead it became clear to the huddled masses in attendance that the Eagles offense didn’t need to score, but did need to help their defense by running off as much time and putting as field position between Wurn and the end zone.
Step one: get a first down. It appeared several times on Kent City’s final drive that NPC would be able to stop the Eagle advance and take back possession with time to score. However, the chess match between Kent City’s head coach, Bill Crane and NPC head coach Brian Haveman was underway as both teams fought to either drain or preserve as as much time as possible.
Crane strategically let time run down before calling timeout before two key plays on the drive, knowing if they were stopped every second mind count in the hands of Wurn and his Mustang receivers. However, on each instance the Eagle came up big with freshman RB Mason Westbrook having a breakout night in big situations. Westbrook’s runs weren’t flashy. In most cases it was hard to tell he even had the ball, but time and time again a swell of cheering would erupt as Westbrook burst from a pile of defenders 5, 10 or 15 yards downfield.
The Eagles ran Westbrook on multiple important downs and he delivered each time, pushing the Eagles downfield and, more importantly, draining time off the clock.
The Mustang defense managed to hold their ground one last time and give Wurn and the offense one last shot with the ball deep in their own territory, the season on the line and just over 30 seconds on the clock.
Their hopes would quickly be dashed. Successive incomplete deep balls that just barely fell incomplete were capped off by a huge interception by DB Bradley Brooks, his second on the night. Eagles rushed to celebrate and lift him up for sealing what amounted to be the final live play of the game.
The several Eagles helped up visibly distraught Mustangs who had made last gasp efforts to make a play for the ball, before calling victory formation and sending the home fans out with a playoff victory and retire Ward Memorial Field until next year.
While the game was not decided by two plays, two fourth down plays by the Eagles accounted for at least a 14 point swing in their favor and failing to make those plays could have easily had the Eagles on the wrong side of a 14-6 score.
Northpointe ends their season at 6-4. The Eagles advance with a record of 7-3 to play undefeated Pewamo-Westphalia for what is sure to be another big test for the Eagles, as PW has maintained an astounding average score of 42.9 to 2.1 this season.