In a game dominated by offense, Herscher’s defense rose up to secure a stunning upset.
As Sandwich drove toward a potential game-winning touchdown in the final minutes, the visiting Tigers finally stopped the Indians’ ground attack to pull off the 35-31 victory Friday night in Sandwich that put in serious jeopardy Sandwich’s hopes for an undisputed Interstate Eight Large championship.
“That’s the thing about the I-8 Large,” Sandwich coach Dusty Behringer said. “Anything can happen.”
Playing for their football lives, the Tigers (3-4, 2-3) showed greater urgency.
Quarterback Dalton Sproul was the difference for the Tigers. The accurate lefty threw four touchdown passes as completed 21 of 26 passes for 362 yards and an interception. He threw three of his touchdowns to fellow senior Kyle Burton.
Both sides produced video game numbers.
Burton hauled in six catches for 218 yards and the three touchdowns. Chase Fontinel rushed for 94 of his 97 yards in the second half as Herscher rolled up 482 yards of total offense.
Sproul accounted for 264 of his passing yards in the first half.
The Indians were just as difficult to stop. All-everything fullback Seth McDonald rushed for 188 yards on 32 carries and scored three touchdowns. Many of his yards came after the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder bounced off the initial tackler.
While McDonald went north-south, junior Austin Bruenig was the speed back getting to the outside. Breunig amassed 199 yards on only 15 carries. He gained a stunning 177 yards in the first half before the Tigers made some adjustments to slow him down.
For the game, Sandwich (5-2, 4-1) rushed for 409 yards on 57 carries. But their lack of a passing attack (no completions) to mix things up ended up hurting them.
The two teams scored on their first five combined possessions. Breunig’s 60-yard burst gave Sandwich a 21-14 lead.
Herscher tied the score at 28-28 early in the second half on a 9-yard pass from Sproul to Blake Patchett. The Indians responded with a 23-yard McDonald run. But that lead lasted less than a minute, as Burton outleaped a defender and then ran clear for a 55-yard scoring strike.
A key play then took place, when Breunig could not secure a lateral and fumbled the ball to the Tigers. One play later, Herscher took the lead for good on a 35-yard Fontinel run. The Indians were plagued by missed tackles.
“I could see that we weren’t gang-tackling the way we usually do, and I could see that we missed a lot of tackles,” Behringer said.
“There were a lot of things we did that we haven’t all year.”
Sandwich pulled within 35-31 on Liam Crotty’s 28-yard field goal. And the Indians were moving the ball, but McDonald and quarterback Dakota Padilla managed only a yard on third and fourth down at the Herscher 30. By the time the Indians got the ball back, it was too late.
“We’re a good football team. We knew we had it in us,” Herscher coach Dan Wetzel said. “We didn’t play good football the first half of the season, but winning the last two weeks has helped us dig out.
“Beating Sandwich gives us a ton of confidence.”