BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FAIRFIELD – A radio station said it was the first time since 2000 that Fort Madison High School has won a football game over Fairfield.
Head Coach Derek Doherty said “it’s been at least 12 years.”
Whew….Where to start. Maybe with the score. The Bloodhounds ruined Fairfield’s Homecoming with a 23-16 thriller in double overtime in Class 3A District 6 football action at Fairfield’s place.
But how it happened, you almost had to see it to believe. And the play that saved the game for the Hounds was a penalty on the Hounds with about 20 seconds left in the game.
Let’s rewind a bit.
Fort Madison trailed 16-8 with :50 left on the clock and the ball at their own 41-yard line. Junior quarterback Will Larson threw three straight incomplete passes, but on 4th and 10, Larson dropped back, rolled to his right and let fly with a pass down the Fairfield sideline that hit a Trojan defender’s hands before slipping into Quentin Schneider’s breadbasket. Schneider wrapped up the ball and turned off balance to run and was tripped up at the 2-yard line.
Larson would bull in from the 2 two plays later and the Hounds were down by a 2 pt. conversion. Larson again tried to slip through the center/guard gap on the conversion attempt but was wrangled down at about the 2. Behind him in the thick grass of the Fairfield turf was a pink Breast Cancer Awareness flag laying innocently in the backfield. The play was called dead on a false start.
According to rules the penalty can’t be declined and the ball was moved back five yards. On the next play, Larson hit Parker Denning just over the goal line for the two-point conversion with :21 on the clock to tie the game at 16.
Fort Madison kicked off and Fairfield coughed up the ball on the return and it was recovered by the Hounds with :07 left.
Larson went to the air this time on a corner fade to Denning, but the ball hung up just a bit in the cool night air and Fairfield’s Carter Ferrel jumped the route and intercepted in the endzone. Ferrel had a couple thoughts of running it out, but took a knee for the touchback with :03 on the clock.
The Trojans then took another knee to end regulation and force overtime.
High school overtime provides a possession for each team from the 10-yard line. After the overtime coin toss, the Trojans had the ball first.
The first two runs were bottled up tight by the Hound hogs on the defensive line, but then Ferrell went off tackle and slipped through the line. The secondary plunged the run and brought Ferrell down at the 2 to end Fairfield’s possession.
Fort Madison took over and Larson took the first snap and scrambled left to the pylon and was hit by the Trojan’s Elan Ledger at the goal line. The tackle pushed Larson out of bounds knocking out the pylon, and the ball was placed at the 1/2 yard line.
The Hounds called another keeper off center and Larson again was smothered at the goal line. With Hounds players signaling a touchdown, no score indication was given and the Hounds went back to work. This time left tackle Jayden Fedler jumped and was whistled for a false start moving the Hounds back five yards.
Doherty sent in sophomore Landes Williams to try a game-winning field goal, but the ball sailed wide right to end the first OT session. The 2nd OT started with a Hounds possession.
Larson took the first snap and gained about a yard, but then found Michael Mosena on the second play from the 9 just in front of the goal line for a completion. The junior signal caller than bulled his way in for the touchdown. Williams added the extra point.
“The first one I was in, and the second one I was in, they just twisted me out,” Larson said after the game.
Fairfield took the ball at the 10 and Ferrell threw incomplete to the endzone over the Hounds’ Calem Maclearn, who almost picked off the pass. Ferrel then called his own number and gained five yards. On 3rd and 5, Fort Madison was whistled for being off-sides, which took the ball half the distance to about the 2. Trojan senior Drew Martin carried for a yard and left it 4th and 1 with the game in the balance.
Ferrell tried to squeeze in over the left tackle on the next snap, but the Hounds defense that had been bending all game, didn’t break… and the celebration started.
“I was just telling them we’re a family and we’re gonna win this as a family,” Larson said.
Doherty said Fairfield had the Hounds number for most of the game.
“WOW…with all caps, please,” Doherty said.
“I do feel bad for their kids and we talked to their coach and it sucks there had to be a “L” in that game. They played really well and better than us most of the game. We came through in crunch time and made things work, but their guys played man. They’re tough.”
Doherty said Larson is quickly becoming the heartbeat of the Bloodhounds.
“He’s the leader of the football team. His heart is showing through the rest of the team and their’s through him. Our guys dug down deep tonight and in an ugly game made things happen. I’m just super proud of their tenacity and effort and fortitude.”
Larson said he kept telling himself as the last few minutes unfolded that it wasn’t over.
“We just kept getting chances, and I was just saying to myself, “Let’s make the most out of our chances. And we did.” Larson said.
“(Fairfield) fought hard and they were on us and had us in the first half – and they had us most of the second half too, but we just fought and made our chances come.”
Defensive Coordinator Jason Crooks said the Hounds went into a bomb blitz at the goal line in the overtime periods.
“It’s kind of 2 deep read, but it gives Diego a little leeway to find the open gap on his side. We have a four-man battery front and he can move into gaps so he can see a little better where to be.”
But Crooks said there’s been a change in the mindset of the Hounds defense.
“Bryce Britton has been amazing. Just year to year physical transformation and a fire in his belly. Jayden (Fedler) played very well and Keaton Poe being back – he’s just a great football player.”
The Hounds couldn’t get anything going in the first half managing only four first downs. But Fairfield would score twice in the first half starting with their second possession. The Trojans started at their own 9-yard line after a Schneider punt and then went 91 yards and scored on a Ferrel keeper.
But the drive was kept a live by a roughing the kicker call on the Hounds with Fairfield facing 4th and 20 from their own 24. And then a roughing the passer call on 1st and 10 at the Fort Madison 28 put the ball at Fort Madison’s one where Ferrel slipped into the endzone.
Fairfield would then push an onside kick that Fort Madison couldn’t find the handle on. The Trojans took over, but the next series was marred by penalties with a helmet-to-helmet, and holding penalty on Fort Madison. However, the Hounds defense would hold again forcing a punt.
Fairfield would score again on it next possession. but again aided by another helmet-to-helmet which prompted an unsportsmanlike conduct to be tacked on for a total of 22 yards against Fort Madison. Ferrell would go again from one yard out for the score.
For the game there were 31 penalties on both teams with Fort Madison racking up 17.
After a three-and-out, Fairfield was on the move again at the Fort Madison 37, when junior Quentin Ross jumped in front of a Ferrel offering and returned it to the Hounds 26.
Two plays later, Larson would roll left and try to throw back across his body. The ball was tipped by the Trojans’ Nick Schillerstrom and fell into the hands of Martin who took it back to the the Hounds 48 with just :31 left in the half, but Fairfield couldn’t make any hay before the half ended.
Both teams would force punts in their first series out of the lockerroom, On it’s second possession of third period, the Hounds, who had trouble keeping Fairfield away from Larson in the first half, pulled a screen pass out of the bag.
Larson, on 3rd and 21from their own 25, threw a pass over a Trojan blitz and found Diego Lozano who did a Heisman on a Fairfield linebacker and was off to the races. Senior Landon Scheafer was able to slow Lozano down and Landon Kooiker came in and cleaned things up, but not before Lozano had gone 67 yards to the 8. Two plays later Larson went in from the one for the Hounds touchdown.
Neither team would score again, but Fort Madison took possession with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter down by eight and went four downs losing 28 yards in four plays on sacks and penalties. They turned over the ball on downs and it looked as if the game would end there with just 1:38 left in the game.
Fairfield called a shotgun formation and the snap sailed way over the head of Ferrel, who barely outran Romeo Maestro back to the ball, but recovered for an 11-yard loss. The Hounds defense would hold forcing a 4th and 25 and Fairfield would punt to the Fort Madison 41 where fate would start its smile on the Hounds.
“You know sometimes strange things happen” Crooks said. “But it’s high school football. We missed snaps too, but they went for a pass or something there and it was a good break for us. But (the breaks) went there way in the first half and that happens in football I think.”
The Hounds had just 3 yards rushing on the night and 195 yards through the air, 67 on Lozano’s breakway off the screen.
Quentin Schneider led the Hounds with nine tackles, four solo and one for a 12 yard loss. Romeo Maestro and Fedler each had 8.5 tackles. Keaton Poe and Ross both had interceptions.
The Hounds improve to 4-2 on the year and face Washington at home on Friday and then travel to Mt. Pleasant before wrapping up the season at home on Homecoming against Keokuk, which is shaping up to be a game that could determine which team will finish the year with a winning season.
But after tonight’s game – you just never know.