WINTERSET — Creston/Orient-Macksburg had trailed Winterset the entire night, until 1:44 left in the game when quarterback Luke Neitzel rumbled into the end zone from 22 yards out to give the Panthers an 18-13 lead.
On the Panther 2-point conversion, Neitzel tossed the ball into the end zone for Trevor Frain just as it looked like Neitzel was about to go down, resulting in a 20-13 lead.
It looked like Creston/O-M was well on its way to the victory Friday, as the Huskies took over the ball with just 1:44 left and needing to travel 63 yards in the sloppy field conditions.
Two Panther personal foul penalties, combined with precision passing from Winterset quarterback Cory Briney, led to a Winterset touchdown with :15 remaining, as Briney scrambled to buy time and found Lucas Nolan in the back of the end zone, cutting the lead to 20-19.
Winterset sent the kicking team onto the field to tie the game, before opting to send the offense back out to go for the win. The confusion cost the Huskies, though; as it led to a delay of game penalty, moving the ball back to the Winterset 8-yard line.
It all came down to the 2-point conversion attempt.
Briney once again rolled out to buy himself more time, and had a receiver open for a split second. Briney threw the ball toward the corner of the end zone, but Creston/O-M safety Briar Evans broke on the play and deflected the pass out of bounds, sending a roar through the visiting bleachers and along the Panther sideline, as Creston/O-M survived to win, 20-19.
“After they got that penalty and they backed up, I thought it was for sure a pass, probably to the corner,” Evans said. “The thing was, don’t let anybody behind me. Read my keys and no matter what, don’t go up at all.
“I saw him coming out to that corner, and right then I just broke as quickly as I could without slipping and falling, and just got over there as quick as I could and batted it down.”
For a Panther team that has the motto “FINISH,” it was just another example of the team finishing out a win.
“That right there is probably the perfect definition of FINISH,” Evans said. “There is no better way to say FINISH than that. That’s how we do it.”
With the offense struggling in the first half, it was the Panther defense that kept the team in the ballgame.
The only blip on the radar in the first half for the Panther defense was a touchdown pass from Briney to Gilliland with 8:11 left in the first quarter.
Even then, the Panther defense was defending a short field after a Neitzel pass was intercepted by Ryan Scheetz and returned to the Creston/O-M 40-yard line on the opening drive.
“The defense was put in situations as far as down and distance, as far as turnovers, I thought we responded well in the first half holding them to 7 points,” head coach Brian Morrison said. “I think they left points on the board like we did against Glenwood. But, I think good things happen when you play hard on defense and you get 11 hats to the ball. I think that’s contagious.”
The Panther defense also survived a Winterset drive that spanned the final 6:42 of the first quarter, holding the Huskies to a 31-yard field goal attempt that was missed.
After the teams traded interceptions, Panthers ate up much of the remaining clock, taking the ball all the way to the 3-yard line, where they went for it on fourth-and-goal. But, Neitzel lost yards on the run play and fumbled the ball at the 7-yard line.
Creston/O-M remained scoreless until the 5:54 mark of the third quarter, when Neitzel took the ball 59-yards to the house on the first play of a Panther drive, bringing the Panthers to within 7-6 after a missed extra point.
Winterset answered with a 7-yard touchdown run by Noah Kaldenberg on the final play of the third quarter, to stretch the lead back to 13-6.
Kaldenberg finished the game with 88 yards rushing after coming into the game averaging 151 yards rushing per game.
The Panthers held Winterset to just 174 yards of total offense in the game. Senior defensive lineman Keaton Hulett made plays all over the field for the Panther defense, racking up 15 tackles, including four for a loss, two pass breakups and one sack.
Frain scored the touchdown that cut Winterset’s lead to 13-12, as he scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with 7:14 remaining in the game.
The Panther defense came up huge once again, as it stopped Gilliland on a double reverse play on fourth-and-nine, giving the Panthers the ball with 3:18 remaining.
That’s when Neitzel took the game over.
Neitzel broke loose for a 39-yard run on the first play of the drive, setting up his 22-yard touchdown run several plays later, as Neitzel dragged a Winterset defender over the goal line.
“He’s a kid that I think surpassed 1,000 yards for the season,” Morrison said of Neitzel. “He does nice things in our passing game, too. He’s a competitor is what he is. You saw it tonight. When the chips are on the line and we need to gain yards, you put the ball in his hands, and he makes things happen.”
Creston/O-M improved to 7-1 for the season with the win, while Winterset dropped to 5-3.
Creston/O-M’s week nine opponent, Lewis Central, is 3-2 in the district. The four playoff spots from District 1 have been decided, but seeding is still on the line when the Panthers host the Titans on Friday.
Harlan eliminated Atlantic from postseason contention with a 28-21 overtime victory.
Creston/O-M Football Summary
Points by quarter
C/O-M 0 0 6 14 — 20
Wint 7 0 6 6 — 19
W — Trae Gilliland 17 pass from Cory Briney (Drue Coffman kick), 8:11
COM — Luke Neitzel 59 run (kick missed), 5:54
W — Noah Kaldenberg 7 run (kick missed), 0:00
COM — Trevor Frain 3 run (2-pt. failed), 7:14
COM — Neitzel 22 run (Frain pass from Neitzel), 1:44
W — Lucas Nolan 7 pass from Briney (2-pt. failed), :15
First downs 13 14
Rushes-yards 37-231 44-88
Passing yards 50 86
Total yards 281 174
Punts-avg. 0-0 3-28.0
Return yards 90 103
Fumbles-lost 3-2 2-0
Penalties-yards 9-80 4-30
RUSHING — COM: Luke Neitzel 18-178, Trevor Frain 16-63, Maxx Walters 1-0. W: Noah Kaldenberg 26-88, Tanner Porter 4-7, Alex Forgy 2-6, Trae Gilliland 1-(-5), Cory Briney 10-(-5).
PASSING — COM: Neitzel 4-9-2 for 50 yards. W: Briney 10-17-1 for 82 yards.
RECEIVING — COM: Jesse Rathe 2-30, Frain 1-12, Kainen Somers 1-8. W: Gilliland 4-31, Kaldenberg 2-20, Lucas Nolan 3-19, Porter 1-12.
TACKLE LEADERS (solo-assists) — COM: Keaton Hulett (6-9), Brandon Phipps (3-8), Frain (3-7), Adam Baker (3-5), Somers (5-2), Neitzel (4-2), Alex Tamerius (3-3), Nathan Robinson (2-2), Walters (0-2).
INTERCEPTIONS — COM: Alex Tamerius 1.
PASS BREAKUPS — COM: Hulett 2, Briar Evans 1, Tamerius 1.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES — COM: Walters 1.
TACKLES FOR LOSS (YARDS) — COM: Hulett 4 (11), Neitzel 2 (9), Phipps 2 (4), Frain 2 (4), Walters 1 (2), Cole Tanner 1 (1).
SACKS — Hulett 1.