By Rob Potter
ELDRED What a difference a year makes.
Last September, the Eldred Yellowjackets stung the Hancock Wildcats, 52-6, in a non-league football game.
On Monday afternoon, Eldred needed overtime to defeat the visiting Wildcats, 20-19.
The Yellowjackets thought they had prevailed in regulation as three of them sacked Hancock quarterback Dylan Oralls near the Wildcats’ goal line as the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked away. The Eldred coaches and players thought that Oralls was in the end zone when he was sacked, which would have given the Yellowjackets a safety and a 15-13 win.
But the referee ruled that Oralls was outside of the end zone when he was tackled, so the game went into overtime with the score knotted at 13-13.
Eldred (1-0) won the coin toss to begin the extra session and elected to take the ball first. The Yellowjackets took possession at the Hancock 20-yard line and had four downs to reach the 10-yard line to gain another first down. Once at the 10 or inside of it, the Yellowjackets earned another four downs in which to score a touchdown or a kick a field goal.
A nine-yard run by the Yellowjackets’ Christian Martinez on a third-and-two play gave the team a first-and-goal at the 5. Two plays later, junior quarterback Bryan Henry ran up the middle for a TD to give Eldred a 19-13 advantage. Bob Warden then made the extra-point kick to make it a 20-13 game.
Hancock (0-1), a Section IV Class D team, then began its possession at the 20-yard line. On second down, Oralls connected with wide receiver Evan Whitmore on an 11-yard pass to give the Wildcats another first down at the 9-yard line. On that first down play, Derek Keesler took a handoff from Oralls, ran though the line and into the end zone.
The Wildcats called timeout before lining up for a potentially game-winning two-point conversion play. Once the Eldred coaches saw the Hancock offensive formation, they called a timeout to rethink their defensive plan.
Seconds later, Oralls handed the ball to running back Zachary Taylor Miller. But Henry sprinted into the backfield and tackled Miller behind the line of scrimmage to secure Eldred’s one-point victory.
Eldred took a 7-0 lead when Henry completed a TD pass to Matt Balcom on the final play of the first quarter and Warden tacked on the extra point.
Hancock evened the score at 7-7 with 9:34 remaining in the second quarter. Oralls ran for a 65-yard TD and Travis Drake kicked the extra point.
With 1:06 left in the third quarter, the Yellowjackets took a 13-7 advantage as Henry completed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Martinez.
The Wildcats pulled even at 13-13 with 4:03 remaining in the fourth quarter when Oralls threw a 44-yard TD pass to Kent Jennings.
“I’m so proud of my kids,” Hancock Coach Matt Davis said. “We have won just two games the past three seasons and we should have beaten the best [Class D] team in Section IX today.”
Davis, who in his first season of leading the team following the retirement of longtime coach Walt Smith at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, noted that many of the Wildcats played every snap of the contest.
“We played hard and eight or nine of our guys played on offense and defense the whole game,” he said. “I’m very proud of their effort.”
Oralls led the Wildcats’ offense by carrying the ball 15 times for 123 yards and completing 11-of-24 passes for 139 yards.
Miller, who had three catches for 28 yards, and Jennings, who caught two passes for 65 yards, were the top receivers for Hancock. Among the other Wildcats who caught a pass from Oralls were Whitmore (one catch for 10 yards), Thomas Banicky (one for seven yards) and Thomas Malinski (one for seven yards).
“They kind of surprised us with their West Coast offense,” Eldred Coach Frank Kean said. “Give Hancock credit, they played very well.
“Our kids played with a lot of heart and fortunately we got the win,” he added.
Joe Counts was the Yellowjackets’ leading rusher with 82 yards on 13 carries. Also pacing the Eldred ground game, which amassed 286 yards on 43 attempts, were Martinez (10 carries, 78 yards), Ian Halloran (14 carries, 77 yards) and Henry (four carries, 39 yards).