East Ridge appeared to be all but beaten. The Raptors trailed 14-7 with fewer than three minutes to play, and rival Woodbury was both milking clock and moving the ball down the field, well into East Ridge territory.
East Ridge’s hopes were slim, at best. Then, its defense made a play.
The Raptors forced a fumble, and East Ridge linebacker Brayden McDougall scooped it up. His thoughts at that point were rather simple: “Pick it up and run as fast as I can.”
He returned the ball all the way down to the Royals’ 3-yard line. Jacob Schroeder punched in a rushing score on East Ridge’s next snap to trim the Raptors’ deficit to 14-13.
Then came more chaos.
A bad snap and hold on the ensuing extra point attempt led to a kick missed way left. Woodbury celebrated.
But a flag was down on the field. Roughing the kicker.
With the ball moved half the distance to the goal, East Ridge elected to go for two. Again, the Raptors went to Schroeder, who looked as though he would be stopped short of the goal line before one final extension of the ball got him into the end zone to put East Ridge up 15-14 with 2 minutes, 17 seconds to play.
“Just did a little spin, got around, fought hard,” Schroeder said. “That’s it.”
Woodbury had a final drive to still win the game, and advanced into East Ridge territory. But the Raptors brought Woodbury down a yard short on fourth down at the East Ridge 31-yard line to seal the Raptors’ improbable 15-14 road victory.
“It’s awesome seeing our kids just not quit,” East Ridge coach Dan Fritze said. “We always tell them, whatever the score is, it’s just the percentage chance of where you’re at in that moment of time. And if you just keep going, win or lose doesn’t matter, but to get yourself to keep going, keep fighting. We want to teach our kids that for their lives. And to see our kids do that, even if we didn’t win, it’s just the greatest thing as a coach. … It’s just awesome that our kids didn’t quit.”
Fritze has been a part of a number of wild finishes during his time at East Ridge. The Raptors’ run to the Prep Bowl in 2015 featured one thriller after another, but Friday’s game had it all. From a third quarter played in a torrential downpour that rendered both offenses moot to the general intensity of the rivalry.
“Maybe No. 1. In terms of craziness, I haven’t seen much like it,” Fritze said. “I can’t remember a crazier game, especially when it’s your rival.”
In the midst of that third quarter, East Ridge hit a big passing play from Tanner Zolnosky to Dameir Flemino when a Royals defensive back slipped. Flemino went for 58 yards before he was dragged down at the Woodbury 7-yard-line by Scott Hanson.
Two plays later, Hanson intercepted an East Ridge pass in the end zone to keep the score at 7-7.
Later in the third, Hanson fielded an East Ridge punt and returned it deep into Raptors territory, setting up an eventual Woodbury score — a 24-yard scoring strike from George Bjellos to Joey Gerlach on 4th and 11.
East Ridge (3-2) drove down inside the Woodbury 10-yard line again in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game — again, as the result of a long reception from Flemino, who finished with three catches for 121 yards. But again the Raptors came up empty, turning the ball over on downs.
That appeared to spell the end of East Ridge’s chances, until the late-game chaos unfolded.
East Ridge scored first Friday, on a 37-yard run from Toby Anene late in the first quarter. But Woodbury (4-1) responded late in the first half, when Bjellos hit Joe Mahoney for a 29-yard passing touchdown with just 30 seconds to play in the second quarter.
Bjellos was excellent, as he’s been all season for the Royals. He completed 21 of 37 pass attempts for 232 yards and a pair of scores. In totality, the Royals played well in their first defeat of the season.
“Dominated the game,” Woodbury coach Andy Hill said. “Didn’t execute on three plays.”
The win is East Ridge’s third straight after an 0-2 start to the season. When asked if a win like Friday’s can be a turning point in a season, Fritze noted he simply hopes it leads to a great practice Monday. Perhaps that can set the tone moving forward.
But those are thoughts for another day. After the game, East Ridge’s players were largely relishing what they’d just experienced.
“It means a lot to everyone. It’s the biggest game of the year for us,” McDougall said. “I’m sure we’ll be talking about it as long as I can remember.”
Woodbury honored its newest activities Hall of Fame honorees — Krystle Kallman (2005 graduate), Kylie Kallman (2007) and Kassey Kallman (2010) — at halftime. All three were standout soccer players, among other athletic achievements.