Knights come up short in comeback
Fremont-Mills had its chances.
Trailing 28-22 with 1:38 on the clock and the ball in Exira-EHK territory at the 13-yard line, the Knights had four shots at a potential game-winner. But each time on that final drive the Spartans had an answer, the last of which coming on an incomplete pass in the endzone on fourth down that ended the comeback.
“We had some concept ideas we wanted to do,” said Fremont-Mills coach Greg Ernster of his team’s final drive. “Our kids were dog tired at the end. We were fighting, doing everything we could. Our quarterback is young, and he was doing everything he could.
“Their defense played great when they needed to. That last play we had him there in the endzone and everything we wanted, and it was a little behind him and we couldn’t hang on.”
The Knights found themselves on the comeback trail for much of the key Eight-player, District 10 dogfight on homecoming in Tabor. Trailing 14-8 at the half, the Spartans’ extended their lead to 22-8 on Cash Emgarten’s 60-yard scamper to the endzone on the opening play of the third quarter.
But F-M wouldn’t go away so easily.
The Knights’ Lawson Kling scooped up a Spartan bloop kick and raced 45 yards into the endzone to cut the lead 22-14. After forcing a punt on the ensuing drive, the Knights marched 67 yards in 12 plays to knot the score at 22-22 with just over three minutes to go in the quarter. The drive included 10 running plays and a huge fourth down conversion when quarterback Sawyer Forney hit Lucas Madison on a 12-yard out route to keep the drive alive.
Exira would have an answer of their own on the ensuing drive. Taking over at the own 17, quarterback Jameson Kilworth engineered a seven play, 63-yard TD march capped by his toss to Emgarten with :30 to go in the third quarter. They would miss the two-point conversion but take a 28-22 lead into the fourth.
The two teams traded possession on their first two chances in the final frame. Exira took over their second possession of the frame at their own 35 and appeared close to salting the game away when the marched inside the Knight 25 but the F-M defense – and special teams stiffened. After stopping Kilworth short of the first down on a third-and-17, Quintin White came on the punt, but his boot was deflected by Cooper Marvel and scooped up by Braxton Blackburn who returned it to the 13-yard line.
But the Knights could not gain a net-yard in three snaps to set up the final play. Forney’s pass to Madison was bobbled then knocked away by a Spartan defender. With just :39 to go, Exira took a knee to end the game.
“They did a good job of taking advantage of our mistakes,” Ernster said. “They had the big plays we needed and didn’t get. We dropped two big passes and the last one there to probably tie it up. But it was a dogfight all night. My hat’s off to Exira. They did a good job.”
Exira-EHK tallied 308 total yards to the Knights’ 316.
Forney finished 10-of-20 passing for 112 yards. He also rushed for 52 yards. Blackburn ran for 98 yards on 17 carries and scored a TD.
Kilworth paced the Spartans with 118 yards passing and 114 rushing. He threw two TDs and ran for another. Emgarten had 67 yards on the ground while grabbing six passes for 103 yards and two TDs.
What the loss does to the Knights playoff plans is murkier than it was a week ago. With a win, Ernster was confident his team was in the playoffs and likely to host a first-round game. However, with the loss, a first-round home game appears unlikely, and a playoff spot not yet guaranteed.
“We have to bet CAM or Sidney to get in,” the coach said. “We beat either of them and we’re in. They’re going to be tough opponents. But I think our boys are resilient. I think we’ll go back to work and try and sneak in an upset.”
Fremont-Mills (3-3) heads to Anita this week for a match up with 6-0 Cumberland-Anita-Messina on Friday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.