The Schuyler football team hadn’t experienced the sweet taste of victory since a 21-17 win at Bennington on Oct. 12, 2012.
The Warriors carried the weight of a 45-game losing streak on their backs until Friday, when they sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a 21-18 come-from-behind victory over South Sioux City.
South Sioux, which also entered the game with an 0-8 record this season, outgained the Warriors 439-228 in the regular-season finale, but Schuyler had all the answers down the stretch.
Schuyler head coach Aaron Thumann saw a newfound confidence in his team during the week leading up to South Sioux game.
“We couldn’t ask for a better way to end the season,” he said. “It started at the beginning of the week when we grabbed that huge junior varsity win on Monday. We could see a different energy, a different focus, a different tenacity at practice all week.”
The 35-21 JV win over Mount Michael Benedictine was the first victory for the Schuyler football program in the past four seasons and the older players wanted to experience that same thrill, according to Thumann.
“The seniors were saying, ‘We want that. That’s what we want,’” Thumann said. “It paid off in practice all week. We came out and did an awesome job tonight.”
The Cardinals attempted some trickery on the opening kickoff with an onside kick, but Schuyler’s Caden Yrkoski couldn’t be fooled and made the recovery. After a 5-yard penalty against South Sioux, Schuyler quarterback Kevin Contreras hooked up with Tychique Kutalu on a 46-yard touchdown pass to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead less than 15 seconds into the game.
South Sioux answered the following possession with a 10-play, 88-yard scoring drive that ended with a 29-yard TD pass from quarterback Nate Canoles to Jacob Aitken. The Cardinals attempted two-point conversions following all three of their touchdowns, which proved to be the difference in the game as all three attempts failed.
After an explosive first four minutes of the contest, things settled down.
Schuyler turned the ball over on downs on its next three possessions while the Cardinals punted twice and lost a fumble that was recovered for the Warriors by freshman Curtis Novak.
The first quarter ended with Schuyler keeping its 7-6 advantage.
Early in the second quarter, Jesus Maganda booted a booming 58-yard punt for the Warriors, pinning SSC at its own 4-yard line.
The Cardinals responded with a 13-play, 96-yard drive spanning nearly six minutes and went ahead 12-7 when Izzy Miranda found the end zone from 4 yards out with two minutes left in the first half.
Schuyler put together a nice drive near the end of the half, but Maganda’s 50-yard field goal attempt sailed just wide of the right upright.
The Warriors trailed 12-7 at the break, but their confidence had not waned.
“As we were leaving the field our guys were saying, ‘We got this. This is our turn,’” Thumann said. “We stayed in the game because we told them to do their job. They did their jobs and stayed home and good things happened in the second half.”
Schuyler kicked off to start the second half and the Cardinals responded with another long, 12-play drive from their own 6-yard line to the Warriors’ 41. This time, however, Schuyler’s defense stiffened, forcing SSC to punt.
“Even though we gave up some long drives tonight, our defense really stepped up. We gave yards here and there, but when the game was on the line the guys stepped up to the challenge,” Thumann said. “It was awesome to see them accept those challenges and come away the winners.”
Following a shanked punt by the Cardinals, Schuyler put together a nine-play, 52-yard scoring drive to regain the lead at 14-12. Contreras kept the ball on a 2-yard run for the touchdown.
The Cardinals came right back and marched down the field to the Schuyler 29-yard line before dropped passes on third and fourth downs gave the ball back to the Warriors with 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
With the South Sioux defense wearing down, the Warriors returned to their punishing ground attack. Starting from its own 29-yard line, Schuyler ran the ball 12 straight times with two 11-yard carries by Maganda and an 18-yard burst by Yrkoski highlighting the drive.
Schuyler faced a crucial fourth-and-1 situation at the SSC 6-yard line when Contreras powered behind his offensive line to gain 2 yards and a first down. Two plays later, Maganda walked into the end zone from a yard out to extend the Warriors’ lead to 21-12 with 7:06 to go in the game.
Thumann was excited about the success of his team’s rushing attack.
“The power running game that we showed tonight is what we want to do moving forward. We think that we have the players that we want to do that. The kids love it,” he said. “Our linemen are going out there and playing smashmouth football. We didn’t rely on the power game earlier in the season, but when we came to this they just lit up and said, ‘This is for us.’”
The Cardinals didn’t go down without a fight. They put together an 80-yard scoring drive and pulled within 21-18 on a 43-yard pass from Canoles to Dathon Klassen with 4:56 remaining.
Schuyler was unable to run out the clock on its next possession and punted with 3:03 left.
Starting from their own 25-yard line, the Cardinals marched to the Schuyler 30 in 10 plays over two minutes.
Elijah Strom then caught a pass at the Schuyler 12, but was ruled out of bounds, setting up second down. Canoles overthrew receivers on the next two plays to force a game-deciding fourth-and-10 situation.
Miranda slipped behind the Schuyler defense, then slipped himself as he slid in the end zone. The throw from Canoles somehow found its way through the hands of two Schuyler defenders and hit Miranda in the hands, but he couldn’t control the football and it fell harmlessly to the grass.
Schuyler took the victory formation for one final play to run out the clock and put an end to the losing streak.
“Those guys did a great job tonight and I am very proud of them,” Thumann said. “We now have the passion going forward to do some great things in 2018. This is exactly what this program needed as we row the boat into the future.”