A dramatic, torrid, finish by Canton Central Catholic finally swept away the grip Coldwater held on Division V football…and in the most unexpected way.
Columbus – If you know anything about Coldwater football, this was not expected to happen.
That is, stage the comeback the likes of what the four-time defending champion Cavaliers did Saturday night in their Division V title game with Canton Central Catholic…only to see Canton come right back and take momentum, the game, and the title away in the final two minutes of the game!
But, it happened. Unexpectedly, inexplicably, it happened…when Canton’s Tee Rupp took a short 5-yard pass from quarterback Jack Murphy and instead of going out of bounds to stop the clock at midfield- he pivoted back toward the field of play and sprinted 51 yards for the winning touchdown. Canton won the game, 16-13, to atone for previous losses to Coldwater in this same Division V title game in 2014 and ’15.
To be sure, it wasn’t the same Coldwater that had won in those previous years. Gone were the likes of Brody Hoying, Jack Hemmelgarn, Aaron Harlamert and Kraig Schoenherr.
It was a different cast, and not a healthy one at that. No fewer than five starters Saturday were either hobbling or missing entirely from the lineup.
Linebacker Pat Klosterman was on crutches, injured two weeks ago in the district final game.
Safety and wide receiver Louis Barry was hobbled with an ankle problem.
Running back Brad Giere was anything but 100% after being dinged in the semi-final round against Coshocton.
Tackle Cody Hart was gimpy from that same game.
But perhaps the most significant injury was the one to their most impactful player. Wide receiver, defensive back, and kicker, Neal Muhlenkamp had badly sprained an ankle last week against Coshocton was day to day throughout the week. He played Saturday, with more tape than Watergate, but was only a shell of his usual competitive self.
“You didn’t see the real Neal Muhlenkamp tonight,” coach Chip Otten told reporters afterwards. And his presence (or lack thereof) was felt.
Still, the champs competed, playing to a scoreless tie for 23 minutes and 57 seconds of the first half – albeit coming up dry on three trips to the red zone. That alone should have been an omen.
But then, finally, with the ball on the Coldwater 31 yard line and three seconds remaining before halftime, CCC attempted a Division V record 48 yard field goal with kicker Dan Mills. He nailed it with plenty to spare to take a 3-0 lead, and momentum, into the locker room…and the second half!
“He’s kicked them from 55 in practice,” said CCC coach Jeff Lindesmith of Mills. “And he’s a cocky kind of guy. There’s was no hesitation in our going for it.”
Coldwater received the second half kickoff, was quickly intercepted on a pass from Dylan Thobe intended for Nate Rindler, and Canton turned those that miscue into a touchdown on a pass from Murphy to Cameron Ruffin. This time the “cocky” Mills clanked the extra point of the left upright, and the score stood at 9-0.
Undaunted, Coldwater mounted a drive of its own, culminating in a 22-yard touchdown pass at 4:08 of the third quarter from Thobe to Muhlenkamp, who somehow got lost in the Canton secondary and stood all alone at the goal line. It cut the deficit to 9-7 going into the fourth quarter.
On their next possession the Cavaliers struck again, a nine-play, 60 yard drive that ended with Thobe sneaking four yards into the end zone. The two-point try was missed, but Coldwater held a lead, momentum, and for all the world those from Mercer County who watched believed…that the game was in their hands. It was theirs to lose.
And that’s exactly what happened.
On the ensuing kickoff Canton took the ball all the way to midfield, stalled, and had to kick it away.
Coldwater had its own opportunity to mount a drive, milk the clock, and squeeze the life out of Central Catholic. But they couldn’t. Canton’s defense, which had been heroic all night, rose to the occasion and forced the Cavaliers to punt.
Dylan Thobe hit a beauty, one that rolled all the way to the Canton nine yard line.
From there, Murphy and company completed one third and long after another, moving the ball towards midfield. And on a second and five call, with 1:08 left in the game, he hit teammate Tee Rupp near the sideline with what looked like a harmless catch, a step out of bounds, and stop the clock to play another play.
But Dylan Thobe, who defended, didn’t push Rupp out of bounds. Instead, Rupp pivoted back towards the field of play, slipped the tackle attempt of both Thobe and Brad Giere, and sprinted all the way to the end zone with the go-ahead score. The extra point made it 16-13, with 58 seconds left for Coldwater to answer.
“I really thought he was going out of bounds,” said Thobe afterwards. “I tried to keep him in bounds to keep the clock running. But unfortunately he slipped away and the next thing I knew he was in the end zone.”
Still, the Cavaliers drove the ball on six plays to the Canton 35 yard line, where with 5 seconds remaining Thobe’s ‘Hail Mary’ to the end zone was picked off, ending the game.
“I give a lot of credit to Coldwater for what they’ve done over the years,” said Canton coach Jeff Lindesmith. “And I’ve always said if you’re going to beat them you have to put not one, but two daggers in them to make sure. Tonight, they almost came back again. You never take them for granted.”
Their four-year reign set aside, the second MAC team in two years to come up short of a “five-peat”, Chip Otten was philosophic in his post-game comments.
“We just missed too many opportunities early in the game,” he said. “I’m proud of our guys because we felt like we had got it back in control and had a great punt down to the ten yard line for their final possession. But give them credit. They had a 91-yard drive and a heckuva’ play on the reception and touchdown.
“This has been a good three-year run with Canton Central, and we have a lot of respect for them. They’re good kids, Coach Lindesmith has done a really good job, obviously, and there was great sportsmanship between the kids tonight. That’s half the battle right there. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but it was a great experience to play again here in the ‘Shoe’. I’m proud of our guys…proud of the effort when when a guy like Dylan Thobe played almost every play in the game.
“And you didn’t see the real Neal Muhlenkamp,” he added.
By the numbers, Coldwater had 288 yards of total offense, 58 more than Canton Central Catholic. Dylan Thobe, without a healthy running back behind him, ran the ball 25 times for 101 yards and a touchdown. He threw it 29 times, completed 15, for a touchdown and had the three interceptions.
Canton Central Catholic finished with 230 yards, 74 rushing and 215 passing from Jack Murphy, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
It isn’t often, one said afterwards, that you see any MAC team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…and especially Coldwater. “You just don’t see title games slip away from them,” said one writer in the post-game conference.
But then, again, Dylan Thobe, Neal Muhlenkamp, Louis Barry, Brad Giere, et.al., were something other than what you’d get with the real Coldwater…at least this time. No excuses, mind you, it’s just football. And they weren’t supposed to get this far, anyway.
“Prove them wrong,” Otten had coined from the fifth week of the season on, in reference to massive graduation losses and those who believed they weren’t good enough to even get to state, much less win it again.
But they almost did.
Just seconds short…from vintage Coldwater!