ONEIDA | Last week, Oneida scored on a 3rd and 38 play when Caden Rector found senior wide receiver Colten Daugherty streaking wide open on a post route for a 62-yard touchdown. It proved to be the turning point in the game.
This week, the Indians scored on a 3rd and 20 play when Rector found another senior wideout — Tait West — open for a 47-yard score.
If it seemed like a similar play to the one the Indians had in their win over Wartburg, it was: Coach Jimmy May dialed up the exact same play that his team scored on against the Bulldogs, and it proved to be the difference again in a 13-10 win over Oliver Springs.
But it wasn’t pretty, nor was it easy. IHSN color commentator John L. Strunk quipped, “It was as ugly as Mark (Matthews) in a dress.”
Nevertheless, it was a win, as the Indians used some defensive stops to escape with the narrowest of wins.
“It was a hard night,” May said. “They’re very much improved and every game they’re getting better. We had some self-inflicted wounds that we have to get fixed, but we’re never going to apologize for a win. We may not feel like we played very well or I coached very well, but we won the game, which is what we’re trying to do.”
Oneida used a pair of stops inside its 10-yard-line to preserve the win. The first came on an opening drive that saw the Bobcats chew up most of the first quarter clock and drive to near the goal line before the Indians forced the ball over on downs.
One of several fumbles by the Indians resulted in a safety, but Oliver Springs was unable to find the end zone.
“We’re just battling in there the best we can right now, and we got a big stop,” May said. “We gave them a safety down there but that was better than giving them a touchdown.”
One of the biggest plays of the game was the ensuing kickoff. Given the free kick from the 20-yard-line after the safety, Oneida chose to put it on the tee and turn to their strong-legged senior placekicker, Luke Barna. Barna’s kick sailed over the head of the Oliver Springs return man. The Bobcats’ field position was compounded by back-to-back-to-back personal foul penalties, which put the ball in play at the 4-yard-line.
“They went from having it at maybe the 40 to having it inside the 10, and we were able to stop them and got the ball back, and then we scored on that drive,” May said.
That score came when Westen Hurst scored from the five-yard-line on 2nd-and-goal, giving the Indians a 7-2 lead.
After an interception by Elijah Phillips, who was named the First National Bank Player of the Game for that play and a team-leading nine tackles, Oneida scored again when Rector and West hooked up for the 47-yard score with 2:38 remaining.
That play gave the Indians a 13-2 lead, which was critical because Oneida would not score again … and would struggle to move the ball at all. The Indians finished with 136 yards of total offense. Take away the big touchdown pass, and it would have been less than 90 yards of offense.
But on a night when the Indians struggled to move the ball, two things stood out. One was the play of the junior quarterback, Rector. One week after becoming the first Oneida quarterback in almost 20 years to pass for more than 200 yards, Rector completed 9 of 10 passes for 125 yards. The other was Oneida’s defense, which limited Oliver Springs to 210 yards and made stops when it mattered most.
In fact, Oliver Springs’ only offensive score came on a short field. The Bobcats recovered a fumble inside Oneida’s five-yard-line in the final minute of the first half, and punched it in on a four-yard touchdown run by Mason Day, who led his team with 92 yards rushing.
“I was just trying to run a draw to get out of there, and we didn’t execute it right,” May said.
That’s not to say that the Bobcats were never able to move the ball. They started the game with a lengthy drive, and had another late in the third quarter and into the fourth. But just as Oneida’s defense stood up on the game’s opening drive and made a stop inside the 10-yard-line, the Indians did the same thing early in the fourth quarter. Oliver Springs got all the way to the 7-yard-line, but Oneida got a key sack on 3rd down to force a 4th and long, and the 4th down pass fell incomplete.
“We had to bow up a couple of times and stop them,” May said. “We’ve just got to keep finding a way to win, and we’ll get better. We’ve got a lot of things to work on. They battled and didn’t give up and I’m proud of them for that.”