Anna had been unchallenged the first two weeks of the season, while Versailles suffered a humiliating loss at home last week. It was the Tigers, though, that seized control from the outset, and then hung on for a MAC-opening win.
Anna – Desperate is probably too strong a word to describe the Versailles Tigers mood Friday night as they entered Booster Field for the opening game of the MAC schedule against unbeaten Anna. Let’s say determined.
Determined to prove that they were a far better team than the one which took a 35-0 drubbing at home from Valley View. Determined to put that loss behind them and turn their season around.
Consider it…mission accomplished.
The Tigers took advantage of two huge Anna turnovers to score 14 points in the first half, then held on for all they were worth to secure a 20-12 win, a decision that left both teams 2-1.
“It was a great battle. Very proud of the kids and how they played,” said fifth-year Tigers coach Adam Miller. “We had injuries, we had mental mistakes, but the kids stayed strong and fought their way through it.”
Make no mistake, the Tigers had a tough week. Just ask the players.
“Well, Monday wasn’t much fun,” junior running back Garrett Thompson said, able to smile about the first day of practice this week after rushing for 66 hard earned yards on 13 carries. “That was bad. After that, we decided to pick our heads up and stop feeling bad for ourselves. We decided we wanted to work and get better.”
After scoring just 13 points the first two weeks of the season, the Tigers exploded out of the gate. The Rockets coughed up the opening kickoff, and the Tigers recovered at the Anna 32. Six plays later, Noah Grisez banged in from the three to give the Tigers a lead they never relinquished.
Early in the second quarter, the Tigers began a drive that offensive coaches live for and defensive coaches have nightmares about. Starting from their own 40, the Tigers grounded out 60 yards in 11 plays, a drive that consumed more than eight minutes off the clock and ended with a one yard run by senior quarterback Alex Wendel.
Three plays later, the Tigers made the play that appeared to clinch the game, even with a half to play. On third and one from the Anna 46, a hard hit in the backfield resulted in the ball popping into the air. Tiger defensive back George Grow grabbed the pigskin and raced 43 yards for the Tigers second touchdown in 39 seconds. With the Anna offense completely ineffective to that point, it looked like a Tigers rout was in the offing.
Grow was the catalyst on offense, rushing for 89 yards on 12 carries. But the senior injured an ankle midway through the third quarter and left Booster Field on crutches. Thompson was the next man up.
“It was important that every man get his blocks, play to the whistle and give everything you have. When someone goes down, you put the next guy in there and keep playing. That’s how we did it.”
Anna did not go gently into the good night, to paraphrase the poet Dylan Thomas. Junior quarterback Travis Meyer led a four play, 75-yard drive that beat the clock, barely. Meyer found junior Caleb Kauffman in the middle of the end zone with three seconds left to make it 20-6 at the break.
“We felt good at the half, even with that last drive,” Miller continued. “We took advantage of the opportunities we had and the offense had a nice drive for a touchdown. It was a good half.”
Versailles held the ball for 16:15 of the first half and ran 29 plays to the Rockets 17. But the second half was a complete reversal, at least early. Versailles went three and out on their first two possessions in the third quarter, while Anna went 63 yards on 7 plays the first time it had the ball to cut the lead to 8. Meyer found Trey Cates with a five-yard scoring pass, but the Rockets still trailed 20-12 after missing their second straight extra point.
The Rockets final turnover was perhaps their biggest. Trying to mount a drive for the game-tying score with under 5 minutes to play, Meyer attempted to throw a swing pass out to his right. The play was open, but Meyer did not take into account 6-5 defensive lineman Jacob Heitkamp, who deflected the ball and then grabbed it before tumbling to the turf.
“That was awesome,” exclaimed his coach. “We wanted to control the ball more in the second half, but the defense stepped up and Jacob made a great play to get a big stop for us.”
“I saw the fullback go off to my side,” Heitkamp explained before boarding the bus. “I saw the quarterback turn, and I just jumped. And I caught it. It felt great to make a big play for my team.”
Heitkamp acknowledged that his team was challenged in the second half.
“We got a little tired, and that can’t happen,” he explained while allowing that the heat and humidity might have had something to do with that fatigue. “It was one of the hotter games I have played in. But we have to come back Monday and condition, and next Friday that can’t happen again.” The Tigers host 2-1 Delphos St John’s next week at Hole Field.
Miller was candid when asked if he was confident entering the game.
“No,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll be honest with you. Last week was scary. We saw some things we don’t ever want to see again. It was a rough week of practice. We challenged the kids and told them it was all about the way they respond. I thought they responded well. They knew what happened last week was not acceptable. They came out and played their butts off tonight.
“This is a big boost for us after last week. You go through a game like that and we were searching a little bit for who we are. This was a great way to come out and prove that we can play some football.”