Comeback bid falls just short for Tigers

Plainsman Staff
Posted 8/25/23

Tigers come back from halftime deficit in season opener but fall short

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Comeback bid falls just short for Tigers


HURON — The Huron Tigers scored three times in the final six minutes of the game, storming back to force a make-or-break conversion that was not successful as the Tea Area Titans escaped with a 27-26 win in the season opener for both teams.

Tea Area came in with consecutive trips to the 11AA title game under their belt, but after a slew of penalties on both teams, Huron gave the Titans all they wanted in the game as they posted a furious comeback in the fourth quarter.

The Tiger Stadium crowd hadn’t had a chance to settle in after introductions when Tea Area’s Ethan Vis took the opening kickoff right up the middle of the field and went untouched for 97 yards for the score. The point after was wide left, but the Titans held a 6-0 lead after 13 seconds.

After possessions by both teams that were hampered by penalties, Ethan Busch shook loose on a 40-yard punt return for the Tigers, and was stopped from the score by a shoestring tackle. Again, however, the Huron offense sputtered and the Tigers had to punt, giving the ball back to the Titans midway through the quarter.

After a first-down run by fullback Keegan DeYoung for Tea Area, the Tiger defense stiffened, stopping the Titans on three straight runs and forcing a fourth down play from near midfield. The Titans, after being snuffed inside, however, faked DeYoung up the middle and pitched to Dawson Eimers who sprinted 51 yards for the score. Carson

Hall hit the PAT this time and Tea Area led 13-0 with four-and-a-half minutes to play in the first quarter.

The Huron offense began to click on its next drive, as quarterback Colt McNeil connected with a diving CJ Gainey for 32 yards down the right side of the field and set Huron up at the Tea Area 30-yard line. But the penalty bug, which hurt Huron often in the opening half, raised its head, as two straight illegal procedure penalty marched the Tigers back 10 yards. After a short run by Cashton Caudell, McNeil rolled left and found Gavin Moeding, who found himself with no defender nearby, for 27 yards. An unsportsmanlike call against Huron marched it back however.

After a short run, McNeil again dialed long distance, and Gainey made a circus catch over the back of the defender, and Huron had the ball first and goal from the four-yard line. But the drive fizzled there and the Tigers turned the ball over on downs.

Tea Area proceeded to march the ball down the field, mostly on the legs of DeYoung, and Riley Svanda cashed in on a 52-yard run. But penalties set the Titans back as well. Eventually, the offensive line began to open holes inside and quarterback Brenner Konrad found room to run, eventually setting the Titans up with a second down at the Huron one-yard line.

But for the second time on the drive, Konrad bobbled the handoff and Huron’s Okay Htoo plopped on the ball, extinguishing the Tea Area drive. Huron went three-and-out on its next possession, and Tea Area took advantage of decent field position and quickly moved down the field, as Eimers punched it in from the four-yard line for the score, which made it 20-0 after the PAT, with only 1:21 before the half.

Huron’s Holden Hegg pursues Tea Area’s Keegan DeYoung as teammate CJ Gainey tries to make the tackle during the opening half of their game Friday at Tiger Stadium.

Pressed for time, the Tiger offense responded. Caudell ripped off an 11-yard run, his longest of the first half. Two passes from McNeil to Moeding, both of which resulted in first downs, suddenly put Huron in business at the Tea Area 28-yard line. Two incompletions on attempts to Gainey - one an outstanding defensive play and one that just slipped through his hands, forced a fourth-down play. McNeil flipped a short pass to Ethan Busch, who managed to get the first down as the clock ticked down. A spike by McNeil stopped the clock with 23 seconds to play in the half. Two incompletions set the ball for a final play from the Tea Area 14-yard line. McNeil rolled right, three left and connected with Moeding, who came up one yard short as time expired.

Huron didn’t get on the board, but carried momentum with them into the halftime break.

The Tigers went three-and-out to open the second half, and Tea Area took over near midfield, but Konrad again coughed up the ball, giving Huron the ball back in Tea Area territory.

Caudell immediately went off left tackle for 21 yards, but a penalty set the Tigers back five yards. Then, facing a third-and-16 play from the Titan 32-yard line, Huron lined up three receivers on the left side, isolating Moeding with one defender on the right side and McNeil lofted a perfect pass, hitting Moeding in stride at the goal line for the first Tiger touchdown of the season. Nick Kleinsasser tacked on the point after, making the score 20-7.

That was all the scoring in the third quarter, however, as penalties caused both teams problems, as did the warm weather, as both teams also saw numerous players slowed by cramping leg muscles.

Tea Area took over deep in their territory late in the third quarter and began marching. They continually found running room between the tackles, as the Titans began to utilize their size advantage. Three runs up the middle resulted in three first downs, before the Tiger defense stiffened and forced a third and long play. But Konrad completed a 12-yard pass on a third-and-11 and the drive continued. A DeYoung run then a sweep from Eimers put the Titans with a first and goal at the Huron eight yard line and DeYoung ran up the center for the score, taking more than five minutes off the clock on a grinding drive that made the score 27-7 after the PAT.

Needing to make something happen, Huron was again bitten by the penalty bug. Two incompletions added to the issue, and the Tigers faced a third-and 17 play. McNeil rolled right, threw the ball into a number of players and Moeding somehow came out of the scrum with the ball, setting sail down the right sideline for a 46-yard gain, setting Huron up at the Tea Area 28.

Huron receiver Gavin Moeding goes up for a catch under heavy pressure during the opening half of Friday’s against Tea Area at Tiger Stadium.

McNeil pulled a sleight of hand trick, faking into the line and bootlegging around the left side for the score. Huron, however, was whistled for a holding penalty. An incompletion and a short run set up the third down play. McNeil faded to pass, and in the face of a huge Tea Area rush, threw the ball down the center of the field, where Gainey made an acrobatic catch and fell into the end zone for the 28-yard touchdown. The PAT failed, but the Tigers had life, trailing 27-13.

With fewer than six minutes to play, Tea Area loaded up the running game, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty set the Titans back inside their 25-yard line. The Tiger defense held and forced a punt.

After a Busch punt return put the Tigers in Titan territory, a McNeil pass to a wide-open Gainey for 37 yards put Huron first and goal from the nine-yard line. Caudell hit paydirt from there, with 4:09 to play and Kleinsasser added the extra point to make it 27-20.

Huron again needed a defensive stop to get the ball back. A Tiger penalty, a no-gain run and a short pass to Svanda set Tea Area up for a third and two as the clock rolled past three minutes to play. The Titans looked to slip DeYoung up the middle, but the Tigers rose up and snuffed the play for a loss, forcing a punt.

Huron took over at its own 41-yard line, with 2:20 on the clock and one timeout. A long pass was nearly intercepted, but the Titans were whistled for a roughing the passer penalty, moving the ball into Tea Area territory.

Two incompletions and a short Caudell run made it fourth and 10 with a minute and a half to play.

Needing a miracle, McNeil read the blitz by the Titans, dumped a short pass to Caudell, who rumbled to the 19-yard line. McNeil was forced to throw the first-down pass away, and on second down a back-shoulder pass to Moeding resulted in a penalty that gave Huron a first-and-goal from nine-yard line with 1:05 to play.

Caudell ran the ball to the five, then McNeil was tripped up and lost yardage on on second down. A Caudell run put the Tigers at the three then McNeil hit Gainey for the score in the left corner, with 13 seconds to play.

The Tigers elected to go for two points and the win, however the conversion pass was deflected and Tea Area escaped with the win after recovering the onside kick.

Score by quarters

Tea Area 13 7 0 7 — 27
Huron 0 0 7 19 — 26

Scoring summary

1st Quarter
Tea Area — 11:47 - Ethan Vis, 97-yard kickoff return. PAT failed.
Tea Area — 4:29 - Dawson Eimers, 51-yard run. Carson Hall PAT.

2nd Quarter
Tea Area — 1:21 - Eimers, 2-yard run, Hall PAT.

3rd Quarter
Huron — 8:18 - Gavin Moeding, 32-yard pass from Colt McNeil. Nick Kleinsasser PAT.

4th Quarter
Tea Area — 7:36 - Keegan DeYoung, 8-yard run. Hall PAT.
Huron — 5:57 - CJ Gainey, 28-yard pass from McNeil. PAT failed.
Huron — 4:09 - Cashton Caudell, 9-yard run. Kleinsasser PAT
Huron — :13 - Gainey, 3-yard pass from McNeil. Conversion pass failed.