Wolverines hold on in 40-38 upset of C-A-M
MALVERN - Coach Kevin Schafer didn’t like his team’s body language.
Heads were down. The energy was low. The momentum had flipped again.
East Mills, holding a slim two-point lead and looking to ice the win with less than two minutes to go, had just turned the ball over. The door open was open for Cumberland-Anita-Messena, the defending state champions, to make their comeback.
But all was not lost. The Wolverines dug deep and stiffened on defense. They held the Cougars out of the end zone on not four but five attempts from inside the 27-yard line – thanks to a face mask penalty – and held on for a thrilling 40-38 victory in eight player football Friday in Malvern.
“I’m sure there were a lot of people doubting we could pull this off,” Schafer said after the game. “We told the kids this would be an upset sure but this isn’t C-A-M from last year. We’re better this year then we were and they’re maybe not as good as they were. We thought if we could play to our abilities, we could do it.”
How the Wolverines did it was a tale of two halves.
East Mills opened the game with a pair of methodical touchdown drives to score on their first two possessions. But it was their defense that controlled the Cougars’ attack. Other than a 79-yard kickoff return by Sam Foreman, C-A-M struggled to move the ball on the Wolverines, netting just 31 yards on their first four possessions.
After forcing three punts and holding on a fourth-and-5 at their on those possession, the Wolverines found themselves ahead 20-6 following a Ryan Stortenbecker 2-yard TD scamper.
But C-A-M would not go away quite so easily.
With running back Brody Paulsen running out of the wildcat, the Cougars marched down to the Wolverine 10 where quarterback Chase Spieker hit Austin Williams on a TD pass to make the score 20-12 at the half.
The momentum carried over into third quarter when the Cougars’ Paulsen connected with Foreman on a 59-yard TD catch and run on the second play from scrimmage. They would miss the two-point conversion but trailed just 20-18.
After trading empty possessions, C-A-M would take their first lead of the game with just under six minutes to go in the third quarter. Williams’ 10-yard scamper put the Cougars up 24-20.
The Wolverines would wrestle the momentum back on the next two possessions. Thornburg’s 66-yard TD scramble would give them the lead back and a blocked punt by their East Mills special teams would set up another score when Thornburg hit Mason Crouse for 21-yard TD pass. The two-point conversion gave the Wolverines a 34-24 lead with just over four minutes to go in the frame.
Neither team would find the endzone the next eight minutes.
But the Cougars would not go away.
Williams’ second touchdown rushing and ensuing two-point conversion cut the lead to 34-32 with eight minutes to go in the game. The Wolverines would be forced to punt on their next possession setting up the C-A-M at their own 35. Two plays later, Spieker found Foreman for a 45-yard TD catch to take lead back at 38-34 with just over six minutes to play.
Taking over at their own 28 on the ensuing possession, Thornburg engineered an eight play, 3:12 drive he capped by hitting Peyton Embree with nifty flip pass from three yards out. The two-point conversion would fail but East Mills had the lead back at 40-38 with just over three minutes to go.
C-A-M moved the ball out to their own 27 but Stortenbecker came up with the defensive play of the night when he snagged Spieker’s pass and returned the interception to the Cougars’ 13-yard line. But the Wolverines would give the right back to plays later on a fumble to set up one final drive by the defending champs.
The Cougars quickly moved into the red zone at the Wolverines 7-yard line thanks to a 12-yard scramble by Spieker and completions of 16 and 31 yards to Foreman. However, back-to-back penalties by C-A-M pushed them back to the 24. After a pair of incompletions and a sack by Stortenbecker that set them back to the 27, East Mills appeared to have made the final stop on another sack, but an incidental face mask penalty gave them one last play. But Matthew Haley’s second of two sacks on the night ended that chance.
“We almost gave it away,” Schafer said. “They had all their timeouts, and I knew with their tall receivers they could move the ball. Even when covered them they outjumped up us. With three minutes left in eight-man football, that’s plenty of time and they moved right down. The penalty was big. They had an extra crack at it.”
Schafer said he couldn’t be prouder of his defense, which gave up 318 yards after halftime.
“Our body language wasn’t great when they went ahead, and we completed a couple little passes, and Davis McGrew got some first downs, and you could see out energy pick back up again and we started moving the ball again.”
The Cougars outgained the Wolverines 390 to 387.
“They’d pound, pound, pound and all the sudden play action,” Schafer said of the Cougars’ passing attack. “If your corners are making a lot of tackles near the line of scrimmage, you’re susceptible to that. We knew that was a possibility. We were nervous at halftime because they pounded the ball right down the field on us right before halftime.
“We talked at halftime about getting our mojo back because we knew we were going to see that in the third quarter. And I thought we held up to that really well.”
Thornburg had a monster of a game for the Wolverines. He passed for 231 and three TDs on 22-of-44 passing and rushed for 121 and two TDs on 17 carries.
“When you throw a lot like we do, and our percentage isn’t super high right now, its hit and miss,” Schafer said. “And we’ve been like that most nights. We missed a few a deep throw and there were some other ones we overthrow and we’re fine with that. We had some open ones though that we need to hit for big plays.”
McGrew hauled in 11 passes for 127 yards and a TD and Crouse had seven grabs for 71 yards.
EM 14 06 14 06 40
CAM 06 06 12 14 38
EM – Davis McGrew from Zach Thornburg, 5 pass (kick good).
CAM – Sam Foreman, 79 kickoff return (conversion failed).
EM – Thornburg, 1 run (kick good).
EM – Ryan Stortenbecker, 2 run (conversion failed).
CAM – Austin Williams from Chase Spieker, 10 pass (conversion failed).
CAM – Sam Foreman from Brody Paulsen, 59 pass (conversion failed).
CAM – Williams, 10 run (conversion failed).
EM – Thornburg, 66 run (kick blocked).
EM – Mason Crouse from Thornburg, 21 pass (two-point conversion good).
CAM – Williams, 2 run (two-point conversion good).
CAM – Foreman from Spieker, 45 pass (conversion failed).
EM – Peyton Embree from Thornburg, 3 pass (conversion failed).