Knights fall in ‘Battle in the Valley’ thriller
Clayton Miller’s scrambling, 12-yard touchdown pass to Colton Leichty with :13 seconds left broke a 20-20 tie and lifted WACO-Wayland to a 26-20 victory over Fremont-Mills in a battle of Eight-player Top 10 teams at the Battle in the Valley in Des Moines Saturday night.
Playing under the lights on field turf at West Des Moines Valley’s 8,000 seat stadium, the two perennial powers battled all night long. The Knights had tied the game with a 13-play, 66-yard drive just under a minute prior to the the Warriors’ dramatic game-winner.
“Yeah, our kids did a good job of competing there,” said Fremont-Mills coach Greg Ernster after the game. We made them drive the length of the field. We made them dink and dunk and the kid rolled out of the pocket, our kid tried to make a play and the quarterback was able to sneak one over his head.
“You know, I’m proud of the way our kids fought. We could have easily given up, but our kids fought until the end.”
The Warriors, the state runner-ups a year ago, showed they were ready for business after forcing a Knight three-and-out on their opening drive and then marching down the field for a 10 play, 52-yard drive capped by Miller’s 3-yard scamper. They would miss the two-point conversion to hold a 6-0 lead.
The Knights, however, would answer on their very next drive when quarterback Sawyer Forney, making his first varsity start, connected with Lucas Madison for a 34-yard TD pitch and catch.
After missing the extra-point, the score would remain deadlocked later into the half when a Warrior interception killed a Knight drive and set their offense up on their own 15. Another 10-play drive ended with Miller, this time hooking up with Louden Huisenga on a 7-yard TD toss.
The Knights would turn the ball over on their next drive, but the defense would stiffen to send the game to halftime with WACO leading 12-6.
The third quarter saw the Fremont-Mills’ offense struggle with its consistency – and penalties. They were whistled for four false start penalties on their first three drives of the second half.
With the Knight offense struggling to maintain drives – and avoid penalties – the defense stepped up and did its job, holding the Warriors out of the endzone and creating some offense of their own. Braxton Blackburn’s sack of Miller lodged the ball loose and defensive tackle
Cooper Marvel scooped it up and raced 51 yards into the endzone. The two-point conversion gave the Knights their first lead at 14-12 with 2:51 to go in the third quarter.
WACO would answer with a seven play, 63-yard drive on their ensuing possession to take a 20-14 lead and appear to have all the momentum. They held the Knights on a fourth-and-four from the Warrior 28, but Fremont-Mills wouldn’t go away so quietly.
They would hold WACO on a fourth down of their own in Knight territory and then march 54 yards in 12 grueling plays to set up a fourth-and-goal at the 10-yard line. Ernster would call on his sophomore quarterback, who scrambled and found J.W. Linkenhoker in the endzone. But the Knights would miss a crucial point-after leaving the score knotted at 20-20.
WACO used all but :13 seconds on what would be the ensuing game-winning drive. A final drive that featured five penalties by the two teams with Miller’s pass coming on fourth down and under heavy pressure.
Ernster said he thought the game had the look and feel of a first game between two good football teams. They combined for four turnovers and 20 penalties.
“Absolutely, there’s the penalties, yeah, some of those things, I’ll take a couple of those playing games,” Ernster said. “This is probably the first place where the play clock worked correctly, and they got me. On both sides it was pretty ugly. We forced some turnovers there, but this was our sophomore quarterback’s first game and I thought he played really well.”
The Knights had their moments offensively but struggled with consistency. They finished with just 46 yards on the ground on 18 attempts. Forney showed flashes at times of why Ernster put the ball in the sophomore’s hands, completing 12-of-28 passes for 162 yards and two TDs.
In all the Knights had six trips inside the Warrior 30-yard line but came away with just 12 points.
“Yeah, that hurts, that’s what we talked about at half time. We talked about how we were in the red zone, and we didn’t get any points out of it. But just to get there, we’ve just got to do a better job of finishing. We’re going to learn so much from this game. WACO is a tremendous football team, they’re the runner up from last year and I think they’re going to be pretty good this year.”
The Knights travel to Lenox (1-0) next Friday for week two. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.