SAEGERTOWN — Saegertown coach Mike Rhoades will make the same call again.
After an electrifying 51-yard touchdown run by Lance Neuscheler to get the Panthers within 13-12 of Iroquois with 1:17 left in the game, Rhoades had to make a choice: kick the PAT for a possible tie or go for the win with a two-point conversion attempt.
Without hesitation, Rhoades opted for the latter.
After lining up, Iroquois called timeout — forcing Rhoades to change his play calling. Rhoades’ back-up play didn’t work as planned as the Braves stopped Tony Offi short of the goal line, spoiling the Panthers’ senior night with a 13-12 win in Region 2 action on Friday night.
The gut-wrenching loss dropped Saegertown to 2-6 overall and 2-4 in the league, while Iroquois improved to 5-3 overall and 5-1 in the league.
“This loss definitely hurts,” said Rhoades. “The kids played their butts off. The talk all week was to win this game on senior night and then beat Youngsville next week and we would have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. Unfortunately, the playoffs are gone now.”
When asked about his two-point conversion play call, Rhoades explained, “Originally, we were going to do a quick pitch to Lance, but they (Iroquois) called timeout. They had numbers to that formation, so I had to switch the play call.
“It was a play call that we were running effectively all night, but they strung it out and stopped Tony.”
As for the idea of kicking the PAT and sending the game into overtime, Rhoades said, “We (his assistant coaches) talked about that at halftime. On our first touchdown, they hurdled our center and blocked the kick and we were afraid they were going to do it again, so we made a collective decision to go for two if the opportunity arises.”
It was Neuscheler who scored the first touchdown on a 33-yard run to get the Panthers within 7-6 in the second quarter.
It appeared Saegertown was on the verge of overtaking the Braves on their first drive in the third quarter, but the Panthers committed a crucial turnover in the red zone.
Powered by a 14-yard run by Mitchell Schultz and an 11-yard gain by Neuscheler, the Panthers had first-and-10 at Iroquois’ 18.
Running an option, SHS quarterback Ryan Kidahy’s pitch to running back Casey Fetzner was high and it fell to the ground — into the Braves’ hands.
After being awarded a disputed fumble recovery, Iroquois increased its lead to 13-6 with 3:57 left in the game as the Braves’ all-everything Brandon Roda broke loose for a 21-yard touchdown run.
Roda was a one-man wrecking crew. He rushed for 203 yards on 29 carries, intercepted a pass and also did the kickoff, punting and return duties for the Braves.
“Roda is a special player,” said Rhoades. “One body can’t bring him down. He is a hard runner. After the first quarter, I thought we did a pretty job in containing him though.”
Rhoades was eluding to the fact that Roda picked up 92 of his yards on 10 carries in the first quarter.
On the negative side, Roda nearly gave the game away as he fumbled with 1:52 left in the game — giving the Panthers one last chance.
Neuscheler nearly had a jubilant senior-night game as he spun free off the left-tackle and scooted down the left sideline and finished it off with a leap into the end zone to get the Panthers within 13-12.
The anticipated Saegertown celebration never materialized as Iroquois stopped the Panthers on the PAT.
“I told the kids they have no reason to hang their heads,” said Rhoades. “We were in every game this year. We are not the whipping boys that we were two years ago. These kids are special.”
Jim Hunter can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org