Heading into halftime trailing 24-0, Forreston’s chances to defeat Stark County didn’t look too promising.
That all changed five minutes into the third quarter. Forreston quickly scored two touchdown before Stark County even touched the ball.
Then, stopping Stark County near midfield on fourth down, the fired-up Cardinals Forreston looked poised to continue its rally and make another improbable comeback.
Instead, it was Stark County (10-2) that turned on the afterburners in a 50-20 1A quarterfinal playoff win on Nov. 10.
“Once you make a comeback (Ottawa-Marquette game), you always think you can do it,” Forreston coach Denny Diduch said. “For that to happen tonight, we would have to be perfect in the second half. That’s a lot to be asking.”
“I can’t remember a whole game we played so well,” said SC coach Jade Noard.
It was Forreston (9-3) that started with a roar, as they forced SC into negative yardage on the game’s first possession. However, the ensuing punt was fumbled by Tylor Henneman and recovered by the Rebels at Forreston’s 44-yard line.
“After getting stuffed, who knows what would have happened if we hadn’t got that fumble,” Noard said.
Four plays later, Justin Kohler found a streaking Brandon Lee for a 20-yard touchdown pass. On SC’s next possession those two would make it 14-0 on a 24-yard pass play.
After a Rebel field goal by Italian foreign-exchange student Davide Ravailoli, Forreston put together its best drive on the game.
Starting at the 29-yard line, quarterback Bret Carlson led the Cardinals downfield, including scrambling for seven yards on a fourth-down keeper to keep the drive alive. The next play, though, Carlson, operating out of Forreston’s no-huddle offense was whistled for a rarely called penalty - taking a snap before the ball was put into play.
Three plays later, Forreston faced another a fourth down. A Bryan Kraft run came up two inches short of a first down.
Taking over at its own 9-yard line, SC needed only six plays to make it 24-0. On a play that hurt the Cardinals throughout the contest, it was the quarterback option pitch, this time to Danny Berchtold for 70 yards and a score.
“They were giving us something on that,” Noard said. “I thought they might have trouble when we spread it out.”
“We couldn’t get back off the number two receiver (slot back). He did a great job of blocking,” Diduch said.
Following the kickoff, Kraft had runs of 15, 11 and nine yards to give Forreston another red zone opportunity. The drive died on the 6-yard line as a Tony Romero run on fourth-and-8 came up five yards short.
“We played the best we could and gave it everything,” said Kraft. “Tonight, things didn’t go our way. Kraft led all rushers with 202 yards on 28 carries. He also scored all three of Forreston’s touchdowns and its extra point.
The first Cardinal scoring drive only took eight plays and was capped off by a 12-yard run by Kraft. After recovering an onside kick, it was only six plays, including runs of 12, 28 and 21 by Kraft, to make it 24-14 on the second Forreston touchdown.
“Kraft will go down as one of the best running backs in history here,” Diduch said.
After getting the ball back on a fourth-down stop, the Cardinals couldn’t keep the offensive machine going. SC forced a punt and took control of the game the rest of the way.
Forreston’s final touchdown came on a 68-yard drive, highlighted by a 30-yard reception from Carlson to Romero. Kraft scored from seven yards out to make it 38-20.
SC return the and onside kickoff for a touchdown and had a rushing touchdown to close out the scoring.
“Putting 50 points on them is not what I expected,” Noard said. It was the fifth trip to quarterfinals by SC and the fourth by Forreston, joining the 1976, 1988 and 2011 teams.
“This senior class is one of the hardest working around.”
Stark County will face the No. 1-ranked Stockton (12-0) in the semifinals.
“They’ll give Stockton a run for the money,” Diduch said.
With 5:40 left in the game, there was a 20-minute delay for a medical emergency. An unidentified male sitting in the Stark County bleachers collapsed and CPR needed to be administered. There was no word yet on his condition.