ADEL — A tough district road victory seemed in hand.
Creston/O-M, which faced deficits of 14-3 and 21-10 in the first half, overcame some crucial early mistakes to take an 11-point lead on ADM (35-24) Friday night after a clock-eating drive in the fourth quarter.
Then, a bizarre set of circumstances in the final 4:42 resulted in a stunning 36-35 Tiger victory. ADM came away 2-0 in Class 3A District 1 play, and 3-1 overall, while dropping the Panthers to 1-1 and 3-1.
Creston/O-M coach Brian Morrison, almost at a loss for words immediately afterward, reminded his team later that the same thing happened a year ago — the team’s first loss was to ADM in a turnover-marred game on week two of district play — and yet the Panthers were playing Lewis Central on the final Friday for a chance at first place in the district.
“Things are no different, if anything it’s probably even more balanced in our district than last year,” Morrison said Sunday. “Teams will be going through these things week in and week out. We just have to learn from it, get better, and move forward.”
Elsewhere in the district, Glenwood knocked off Perry Friday, 31-14; Lewis Central rolled over Atlantic, 42-0; and in non-district play, state-ranked Harlan lost to Carroll, 14-7. ADM travels to Lewis Central this week in another key matchup. The Panthers host Perry for homecoming.
In a game of momentum shifts Friday, the Panthers rallied from a 14-3 early deficit to take a 25-21 halftime lead. ADM had scored on a 74-yard pass play on the first play from scrimmage in the game.
In the second half, Creston/O-M used a ball-control offense led by the rushing of Adam Baker, to gain the advantage, 35-24. In building on their five-point halftime lead, the Panthers had a 45-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Phipps to Maxx Walters and Connor Pals’ second field goal of the game. Walters had also caught a TD pass near the end of the first half.
That 30-yarder by Pals for a 35-24 edge with 4:45 left capped a 17-play drive by the Panthers that used 7:11 of the fourth-quarter clock, starting at their own 30-yard line. Baker carried nine times for 47 yards during the possession.
ADM got the ball back with 4:42 left, and escaped near-doom several times down the stretch. On fourth-and-11, quarterback Kolby Whisner hooked up with Joseph Sloss for a 22-yard gain to the Panther 34.
A 14-yard pass took it to the 19, where the pivotal play of the game occurred with 2:24 left. A pass from Whisner went in and out of the hands of receiver Jonathan Reel as he was hit by Walters in the Panther secondary. Linebacker Gavin Leith scooped up the ball and returned it deep into ADM territory as the visiting crowd cheered wildly in celebration. The sideline chains were moved to indicate Creston/O-M’s possession.
Then an officials’ huddle transpired, and the ruling was an incomplete pass, giving the Tigers new life with the ball at the Panther 19.
“That play, I went over and asked that (official) over there, I said he didn’t catch it!” said ADM coach Mike Whisner. “They looked at it, and they said no, I don’t think he caught it.”
Kolby Whisner converted a fourth-and-one on a keeper to the 8-yard line. Finally, with only :46 left in the game, he connected with tailback Grant Goeden on a screen pass to the left for a 2-yard touchdown. A two-point pass went incomplete, leaving the score 35-30 in Creston/O-M’s favor.
ADM kicker Jacob Hutzell stroked an onside kick that went bouncing toward the right sideline. Just before it went out of bounds, past the first wave of Panthers, ADM’s Elijah McCartney pounced on it at the Panther 37-yard line with 34 seconds left.
“Getting the onside was key,” coach Whisner said. “You work on those things, but you never know if it’s going to happen. It was a real hustle play to get the ball.”
After three incompletions, Creston/O-M was called for pass interference, giving the Tigers the ball on the 21. An ADM procedure penalty brought it back to the 26 with 20 seconds left.
Whisner, who had been under pressure from the Panther line much of the second half, had just enough time to heave it to the left side of the end zone, where Jacob Sloss was covered by both Bryce Briley and Pals. The pass was tipped in the air by Briley as he went for the interception, and it landed in the lap of Sloss seated in the end zone, for a touchdown with 12 seconds left. A two-point pass failed, leaving it 36-35 with 12 seconds left.
“Forty seconds is a long time when you give them a short field,” Morrison said. “We had guys in position. He (Sloss) was double-covered, and came down with it.”
Phipps’ first pass of the ensuing possession was picked off by ADM’s Darold Baker, clinching the unconventional victory for the Tigers.
“We’ve had a lot of overtime games, some great victories here,” coach Whisner said, “but I’ve never had a game like this. We were getting frustrated there in the second half, and Creston was playing good, physical football. We just kept playing.”
Creston/O-M coach Brian Morrison struggled to find the words to describe the mindset of his team, following the shocking loss.
“I don’t even know what to say,” the Panther coach said. “Two and a half minutes left and we’re up by 11,” Morrison said. “We put ourselves in position in the fourth quarter to do what we always do. It just didn’t work out that way. We played a physical, hard football game.”
For the game, Baker carried 25 times for Creston/O-M for 138 yards. Trevor Frain had two rushing touchdowns. Phipps completed 9 of 23 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns to Walters. He was intercepted three times.
Whisner was 14-of-32 passing for 251 yards and three TDs. He was intercepted twice. Cory Rathe led a good effort by the Panther defensive line with four tackles for losses.
Penalties continued to plague the Panthers, flagged 11 times for 88 yards Friday.
The varsity game was a mirror image of the freshman contest, in which the Panthers converted a late turnover into the winning touchdown with 1:09 left for a 14-12 victory. That report will appear in the News Advertiser Tuesday along with tonight’s JV contest in Creston.