Eagles Pull Out Muddy Field Win At North Shelby
By David Sharp
North Shelby and Knox County hooked up in another epic battle on a soggy North Shelby Raider Field for their second district football contest.
The Raiders put 14 points on the board despite a lopsided time of possession deficit and led by two points late in the fourth quarter.
Knox County held North Shelby to a pair of first downs, under 75 yards offense from scrimmage and pulled out a 20-14 victory. The win improved the Eagle season record to 5-4, and 3-3 in the Tri-Rivers Conference.
The Eagles were the last unbeaten team standing in District 12 play after two weeks of football.
Scotland County topped Schuyler County by a 35-14 margin. Knox County can seal their first district football championship since 1995 with a Senior Night win over the Rams.
The defeat eliminated North Shelby from winning the district title. The Raiders slim playoff hopes remain alive for a second place finish.
The Eagles and Raiders waged a back and forth battle all night long. North Shelby set up both their touchdowns with well executed special team play.
Knox County hammered their way down the field, making plays when they had to have them.
Alex Daniel broke tackles and followed his blocks for an 85 yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the game’s first play. The extra point kick failed and North Shelby (3-5, 2-4 in the conference, 0-2 in District 12) held a six point edge.
“We had momentum on the sideline, but the same kids had to come back out and play defense,” said North Shelby coach Terry Ahern.
“Knox took the football and came right back and scored on us. We scored in the second half, and they do the same thing and answer.”
“To win the game, an offense has to answer a defense and the defense has to answer an offense,” said the former Arena Football League coach. We just didn’t do that tonight.”
Knox County took the football on their 33 yard line with 11:41 showing on the clock and marched 67 yards for a touchdown. Tristan Lonberger converted a fourth down and four situation into a key first down deep in Raider territory.
The Eagle offensive line bulldozed a path for Andy Greenley to rumble 12 yards to pay dirt with four minutes to play in period one. The two point run failed and the game was tied at six.
Both teams stiffened defensively. The teams exchanged punts late in the first quarter. The period ended as it began, even on the board.
Brian Schrage recovered a North Shelby fumble on the Raider 35 yard line just after the start of the second period. The home team’s defense held fast, wresting back the ball on downs at the North Shelby 23 yard line.
The next three series ended with punts. Knox County took over on their 49 yard line with 1:26 to play in the first half. The Eagle defense provided their offense with good field position most of the game.
Keenan Gillaspy found Cameron Kirmse for a 15 yard gain as time wound down. Neither team was effective passing the football on this cold, damp evening.
Knox County was 1-3 overall in the passing category. The 15 yard gain was the game’s only pass completion.
North Shelby stopped Damon Hemmerling on a fourth and two on the Raider 29 yard line with 16 seconds remaining in the first half. Ryan Henderson dashed ten yards for the only North Shelby first down of the opening 24 minutes.
The half ended with the score tied at six. Knox County had seven first downs to one and a 111-32 advantage in total yards in the first half.
North Shelby converted good special team execution to points at the beginning of the second half. Alex Daniel found a hole in the Eagle kick coverage unit. North Shelby recovered the on side kick on the Knox County 39 yard line.
The fired up Raiders took full advantage of their opportunity. Ryan Henderson raced 20 yards for a touchdown with 9:26 showing on the third quarter clock. Henderson ran in the two point conversion for a 14-6 lead.
Knox County fought back with a 66 yard touchdown drive. “That’s two games in a row where we have faced some adversity and had some things that did not go our way,” said Knox County head coach Steve Ramer.
“it’s how you respond after something bad happens,” related Coach Ramer. “They took the opening kickoff to the house, and our response was to go down and score. We weren’t ready for an on side kick. With the conditions, we didn’t make a good play on the ball.”
“They took it and scored. Our response was to come back and score. I think our team has realized that during a game, bad things are going to happen. You have two choices. You can lay down, or pick yourself back up. Good teams get up and find a way to win.”
Keenan Gillaspy broke a tackle and raced 59 yards deep into North Shelby territory. Tristan Lonberger scored on a seven yard run, pulling the Eagles within a 14-12 deficit at the 7:13 mark of the third quarter. The two point run was unsuccessful
Cameron Kirmse drilled the ball to the Raider 11 yard line on the ensuing kickoff. Knox County stopped the Raiders without allowing a first down. Zach Caldwell punted to the Eagle 43 yard line.
Knox County held the football for the next five minutes, driving to the Raider nine yard line. Tristan Lonberger converted another fourth down gamble with a six yard run.
The Raider defense kept Knox County out of the end zone. The Eagles fumbled on fourth down, handing the ball to North Shelby on their nine yard line.
Knox County’s defense put up a wall. North Shelby was forced to punt from deep in their territory. Cameron Kirmse ran the punt back 20 yards to the Raider 15 with 7:26 to play in the game.
“We could not sustain a drive after we stopped them on a couple of fourth downs,” commented Terry Ahern.
“When you flirt with danger in your red zone on three or four different series it’s going to burn you one of these times, and that’s what we did. Our inability to stop them on defense when we had to, and to get a first down killed us. We get a first down in the last part of that game, and we win.”
The teams fought for every inch of watery turf. Knox County had the option of going with all district kicker Cameron Kirmse with the ball on the Raider five yard line.
The Eagles gave the football to Kirmse, who scored on a five yard wingback counter with 3:28 to play in the game. Tristan Lonberger ran in the two point conversion for a 20-14 lead.
“We had to snap the ball and get a good hold down,” when asked about the field goal option. “We fumbled the football five times tonight. We wondered if we could make all three things happed considering the conditions. If we hadn’t scored on third down, we didn’t think we would get another shot.”
“They were giving us a good push up the middle. We might have gone for the field goal and the win on fourth down. We’re glad we got that score when we did.”
North Shelby got a good kick return from Alex Daniel and decent field position on their 32 yard line with 3:21 to play in the game. Keenan Gillaspy broke up a pass play near midfield.
Travis Hamlin recovered a fumble on the Raider 29 yard line. Keenan Gillaspy picked up a critical first down. Knox County was able to run out the remaining time for the 20-14 victory.
Andy Greenley led Knox County with nine tackles. Travis Hamlin had seven stops, a quarterback sack and a fumble recovery. Cameron Kirmse had six tackles.
Knox County rushed 53 times for 240 yards on the night. Keenan Gillaspy was the game’s leading rusher with 19 attempts for 92 yards. Andy Greenley had 15 attempts for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Damon Hemmerling recorded a six yard sack on defense, and rushed 13 times for 40 yards. Tristan Lonberger rushed five times for 28 yards and a score. Cameron Kirmse had three carries for 16 yards and a touchdown as well as a 15 yard pass reception.
Knox County held a 14-2 advantage in first downs. Ryan Henderson fought through injuries to both knees for 17 carries and 73 yards and a touchdown.
North Shelby rushed 27 times for 70 yards. The Raiders were unable to complete a pass on the night. Both teams were penalized once for five yards in a cleanly played contest. Josh Mesmer had a quarterback sack
“We control our own destiny,” said Steve Ramer of the district championship shot. “The field conditions were tough on everybody. We had more overall team speed. We were confident what we were going to do on defense was going to cause them trouble. We played pretty good assignment defense.”
“We will need to do that next week. Schuyler County has got some weapons. We need to win this week. We need to win the district championship,” said Steve Ramer. “With the point system and the tie breakers, we could go 2-1 in the district and not make the playoffs.”