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After suffering back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Oneida and Sunbright, the Oliver Springs Bobcats got back into the winning column Friday night with a 32-27 victory over No. 6 ranked Wartburg at D.J. Brittan Field.
Heading into the game, not a lot of people felt the Bobcats could knock off the Bulldogs for a variety of reasons. One was the fact that Wartburg had earned the highest ranking in school history, and an even bigger reason was the Bobcats had been through a lot if suffering tough losses the previous two weeks.
“It was tough,” Oliver Springs head coach Wiley Brackett said of forgetting about Sunbright and getting ready for Wartburg. “But these guys are resilient. Wartburg's a fine football team and we knew that coming in, but we know we've got a good football team too although our record doesn't show it. Tonight we were able to make some plays, and I guess the sun finally shined on the old dog.”
Entering Friday's contest, the Bobcats defense had given up 95 points in their previous two games and things didn't look good for the Bobcats as Wartburg's Adam Spence pulled down a deflected pass and raced 62 yards for a score on the game's second play.
Derek Harlan added the PAT as the Bulldogs held a 7-0 lead just 30 seconds into the contest.
While the first deflection of the game went against the Bobcats, the next one worked in their favor as the first play of Wartburg's second possession would see Bobcat sophomore pick off a deflected pass and return the ball 20 yards to the Bulldog 12 yard line.
Oliver Springs scored two plays later as QB Garrett Miller scored on an 11-yard run to make the score 7-6 with 8:16 left in the first quarter.
Oliver Springs' PAT was no good.
Oliver Springs' defense came up big on again on Wartburg's next possession. The Bulldogs drove from their own 35 to the Bobcat 15, but Oliver Springs' Michael Aliff would recover a fumble to end the scoring threat.
The Bobcats turned the turnover into points six plays later as Jordan Romero capped a 78-yard drive with a 20-yard run to make the score 12-7 with 1:40 left in the opening period.
Oliver Springs' two-point attempt was no good.
Wartburg held on to the ball on their next possession and the result would be a 6-play, 57-yard scoring drive that ended with QB Rusty Phillips scoring on a one-yard sneak on the first play of the second quarter.
Harlan's PAT made the score 14-12.
Wartburg's momentum, however, was short-lived as Haven Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown to make the score 18-14 with 11:38 left in the second period.
The big play on special teams didn't come as a surprise to Coach Brackett as he said his squad spent extra time on returning kicks in the days leading up to the game.
“Special teams play was huge for us tonight,” Brackett said. “We know that we have a lot of speed back there and if we block it right we have chance to score. We went live all week on special teams and it paid off tonight.”
Oliver Springs' two-point attempt was no good.
After an exchange of punts, the Bulldogs regained the lead thanks to a 4-play, 51-yard drive that ended with Phillips tossing a 2-yard pass to Jaylon Shannon.
Harlan added the PAT to make the score 21-18 with 5:57 left in the first half.
Special teams play again came up big for the Bobcats on the ensuing kickoff. The Bulldogs tried to catch the Bobcats off guard with an onside kick, but an ever-alert Cling Harper scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the Wartburg 17.
Oliver Springs scored four plays later on a 13-yard pass from Garrett Miller to Austin West.
Oliver Springs' two-point try was again no good, leaving the score 24-21 with 4:19 left in the first half.
The momentum stayed in Oliver Springs' corner as Cory McBee recovered a fumble at midfield to end Wartburg's next possession. But unlike their first two takeaways, the Bobcats didn't capitalize with a touchdown as they were forced to punt three plays later, and the punt proved disastrous as a bad snap allowed the Bulldogs to take over at the Bobcat 49.
Wartburg would drive inside the Bobcat 20, but they would not score as Oliver Springs DB Ray Efferson batted down a fourth down in the end zone to leave the Bobcats clinging to a 24-21 lead at halftime.
The second half opened with more offensive fireworks as the Bobcats drove 80 yards in only five plays to make the score 30-21 with 10:51 left in the third period.
Romero opened the drive with a 55-yard run and Miller ended the drive with a one-yard sneak.
Miller then hit John Simms on the conversion to make the score 32-21.
Wartburg answered quickly with a 9-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Shannon scoring on a 40-yard run.
Wartburg's two-point try was no good, leaving the score 32-27 with 6:44 left in the third quarter.
Oliver Springs thought they had their second kickoff return for a touchdown of the night when Romero scored from 85 yards out on the ensuing return, but a penalty behind the play took the points off the board.
That penalty proved huge as the offensive shootout between the teams suddenly turned defensive.
The next five combined possessions ended in three-and-outs and it wouldn't be until early in the fourth quarter that either team started moving the ball again.
Wartburg's first possession of the final period was a good one as they 43 yards to the Bobcat 30, but the drive came up empty as Oliver Springs' defense stopped Phillips on fourth-and-one.
The Bobcats offense then went into milking mode as they put together a 13-play drive that didn't result in points, but it did take a lot of time off the clock as Wartburg's final drive of the night started at their own 22 with 2:03 left to play.
Wartburg, however, almost had enough time to win as Phillips drove the Bulldogs all the way to the Bobcat 22 in eight plays, but the ninth play would seal the deal for Oliver Springs as Williams intercepted a pass and returned it 72 yards before being brought down at the Bulldog 19.
Oliver Springs won the game despite being out-gained by 213 yards in total yardage (480-267).
Wartburg rolled up 214 yards rushing with Shannon's 91 yards on 16 carries leading the way. Phillips added 266 yards passing as he completed 25 of 38 attempts. Spence caught an amazing 14 passes for 144 yards to lead the Bulldog receivers.
Oliver Springs ended the night with 267 yards of offense on 54 snaps.
Romero led the ground attack with 113 yards and one TD on 19 carries while Miller added 62 yards and two TDs on 14 attempts. Miller also completed 10 of 16 passes for 103 yards and another score.
With the victory, Oliver Springs improves to 5-4 overall heading into Friday's regular season finale against Clay County.
Oliver Springs Statistics
Rushing- Miller 14-62 with 2 TDs, Romero 19-113 with 1 TD, Team 3-(-10), West 1-(-1).
Passing- Miller 10-16 for 103 yards with 1 TD.
Receiving- West 4-26 with 1 TD, Simms 3-47, Romero 1-6, Nelson 1-3, Efferson 1-21.