Forreston needed a fourth-quarter touchdown and 2-point conversion to send its 1A playoff game against Ottawa-Marquette into overtime.
Then, trailing 34-28 in overtime, the Cardinals needed a fourth-down touchdown pass to tie the game back up.
As the Cardinals lined up the kick the extra point, one more problem presented itself. Tylor Henneman, the team’s regular place-kicker, was carted off the field to an ambulance just before overtime began.
With all Forreston had to overcome, it seemed only fitting that back-up kicker Ross Williams booted the winning point for an improbable 35-34 win in front of the largest crowd at Ottawa Marquette in several years.
“It’s the best win I’ve ever had in five years of coaching here,” Forreston coach Denny Diduch said. “The boys will be talking about it for years.”
“It’s crazy,” Forreston lineman Nick Perez said. “I can’t explain it. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
It was Perez who gathered his teammates together after the demoralized Cardinals fell behind 28-13 midway through the third quarter.
“I said we got to go. I got mad and we all got mad,” Perez said.
After two failed fourth-down attempts earlier in the third quarter, a 12-yard fourth-down pass from Brett Carlson to Robert DeVries kept alive a crucial drive that ended in a 4-yard score by Williams. That closed to gap to 28-20
On the next play, Henneman recovered an onside kick to give the Cardinals another much-needed boost.
“We didn’t have it called, but when we went out, we saw they were lined up differently and Denny made the call,” defensive coordinator Kyle Zick said.
Nine plays later, Bryan Kraft, who led Forreston in rushing, crashed over from five yards to make it 28-26. On the critical conversion, Carlson pitched to Williams who found Tony Romero in the end zone on the halfback-option pass.
Playing the role of both coach and riverboat gambler, Diduch was fearless in his play-calling all night, be it fake punts, onside kicks, timely passes and a whole bunch of fourth-down attempts.
However, it was Marquette coach Tom Jobst who really rolled the dice after scoring first in overtime.
Instead of kicking, he opted for the run and Curtis Johnson was stuffed a yard short of the goal line.
“We scored easy, so why not go for it,” Jobst said.
“The way the fullback was running, it wasn’t a surprise,” Diduch said.
On Forreston’s possession, a Williams’ 7-yard run put the ball on the ½-yard line. However, a stunting Crusader defense threw Kraft for a 4-yard loss, setting up fourth-and-four.
Forreston, which never passed more than five times in any one game this year, threw for the sixth time and it was a game winner, with Carlson finding a wide-open DeVries.
“There’s a lot of trust between him and I,” said DeVries, who is also Carlson’s back-up quarterback.
It was Carlson and DeVries giving Forreston an early 7-0 lead on a fourth-down curl pattern for an 11-yard score. That play was set up by a Romero interception.
It was only a 54-yard drive, but it took the Cardinals 13 running plays to get there, a precursor to how difficult it would be to drive on Marquette the rest of the game.
Marquette quarterback Pat Killelea got into a grove after the Romero interception and had seven straight completions, including a 28-yarder to tie the game at 7-7.
Forreston was forced to go to the air on its next possession and Carlson found a streaking DeVries down the middle of the field for an NFL-caliber 69-yard touchdown pass.
“I saw the safety coming up and had it timed out,” explained Carlson, who appeared to have over-thrown DeVries.
Killelea found star running back Curtis Johnson (1,350 yards) for an 11-yard touchdown pass and the Crusaders took the lead back 14-13.
Henneman fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Marquette recovered with 22 seconds left in the half. A 30-yard pass gave Marquette a first-and-goal, but two incompletes and a quarterback sack by Dylan Hensley ended the threat.
In the third quarter, two failed fourth down attempts by Forreston gave Marquette great field near the 50-yard line each time. Marquette capitalized both times, upping their advantage to 28-13.
With the game tied 28-28 midway through the fourth quarter, the Crusaders marched into Cardinal territory. With the elusive Killelea still having the hot hand, Forreston got a huge break when Dustin
Groen laid a crushing blow on him. Instead of the intended pass finding its receiver, DeVries made an interception at the 20-yard line and brought the ball past midfield to squelch a potential inning score.
“A guy cut me at the line. I was able to get up and go after the quarterback,” Groen said.
Forreston drove to the 20-yard line, but came up one yard short on fourth down. For the game, the Cardinals were 4-for-7 on fourth down attempts.
“After the Le-Win game (34-20 loss), we lost our composure,” Diduch said. “ I felt we needed to get it back. The way we played on fourth downs demonstrated we got it back.”