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Oneida survives defensive slugfest in Wartburg

WARTBURG — One of football’s oldest adages is that there’s no such thing as an ugly win.

That’s especially true when there’s a playoff berth riding on the line, as was the case in Oneida’s Region 2-2A showdown with Wartburg here Friday.

So while Oneida’s 7-0 win over the Bulldogs may not have been pretty, it was likely enough to secure a postseason appearance for the Indians, barring an upset somewhere down the line.

In a defensive battle that featured fewer than 250 yards between both teams combined, six turnovers and only one touchdown, it was the Indians’ defense that shined the brightest — and when it mattered most. Time after time, the Indians turned back Wartburg when it appeared the Bulldogs had a chance to put points on the board, and Oneida finally put together a successful drive of its own late in the fourth quarter, capping things with a one-yard quarterback sneak by Caden Rector on fourth down with just over three minutes remaining.

But that simple statement doesn’t really tell the story of Oneida’s game winning drive. After being unable to muster any offense at all, the Indians put together a 23-play, 96-yard drive that consumed more than 10 minutes of game clock. 

“We were kinda off our game a little bit, for some odd reason,” Oneida coach Jimmy May said after the game. “Then in the fourth quarter we just had to take the ball and make a drive and try to win the game.”

It all began when Jayden Anderson intercepted a pass at the goal line, thwarting what looked like it might be a go-ahead touchdown by Wartburg after the Bulldogs had recovered an Oneida fumble inside the 15-yard-line.

Rector’s touchdown carry was just one of the fourth downs the Indians converted on the drive. Earlier, facing fourth down from their own side of the 50, the Indians used a hard count to draw Wartburg offsides and pick up a first down. 

Later, the Indians converted a fourth down on a Rylin Duncan run to keep the drive alive inside Wartburg’s 10-yard-line.

Oneida also converted a couple of third downs along the way before finally scoring on the 23rd play of the drive.

The Indians could’ve settled for a field goal on the fourth down in the red zone. Aidan Love banged home a 34-yard kick the previous week to defeat Greenback. But May said kicking the ball never crossed his mind.

“I had already made up my mind to go for it,” he said. “We were moving the ball pretty good, and I thought we needed a touchdown.”

Disaster struck for Wartburg on the ensuing kickoff. The Bulldogs fumbled the ball, Elijah Phillips recovered, and the Indians had the ball with just 3:24 remaining.

But Wartburg’s defense came up with another stop, forcing the ball over on downs with more than two minutes remaining to give the Bulldog offense one last chance.

Oneida’s defense, however, forced Wartburg into four consecutive incomplete passes to seal the game.

Oneida finished with just 159 yards of offense, but limited Wartburg to only 89 yards of offense. The Indians had only nine first downs, but limited the Bulldogs to just seven first downs.

“I told the guys, don’t ever apologize for a win. They’re hard to come by,” May said. “There’s no such thing as an ugly win. You just win the game.”

Duncan led the Indians’ offense with 65 rushing yards on 18 carries. TJ Meredith finished with 48 yards on 13 carries, while Rector had 25 yards on four carries.

Defensively, Oneida was led by CJ King, who was a force on the defensive line throughout the game.

Neither team was very effective on third down, but Oneida was two of three on fourth down, with both of the conversions coming on the winning drive in the fourth quarter.

Both teams had turnovers in the end zone. The Indians threw an interception in the end zone in the first quarter, while Wartburg threw interceptions in the end zone in the second and third quarters. And, for a second consecutive week, Oneida saw its opponent get inside the five-yard-line before digging in to get a stop. 

“They had opportunities,” May said. “Thank goodness our defense rose up. We fight, it’s just that we sometimes put ourselves in a hole. We’re kind of our own worst enemy at times. We don’t need to help the other team. The teams we play are good enough, they don’t need our help.”

With only five teams in Region 2-2A, Oneida’s win likely will secure the Indians a playoff berth as the regular season plays itself out. Other teams in the region include Rockwood, Monterey and York Institute.

Despite the region win, May said there is plenty for his team to improve upon, especially considering the Indians have had 12 turnovers in three games to start the season.

“We’ve gotta take care of the ball,” he said. “We’ve gotta get our passing game back like it was in the preseason. It’s not what we had; our timing is off a little bit.”

The IH Sports Network is the sports voice of the northern Cumberland Plateau, providing thorough coverage of the Oneida Indians and the Scott Highlanders.

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