WIAA Level 3 - Coleman Unable to Secure Win Over Tough Abbotsford Crew
Level three of the Division 6 WIAA playoffs featured the Cougars of Coleman playing host to the Falcons of Abbotsford Friday night. These two teams seemed very similar in many ways, but were also quite different. Coleman used their bread-and-butter technique of wearing the defense out with long drives, whereas Abbotsford did their damage from the big plays. In the end, only one team would survive and advance.
Abbotsford received the opening kickoff to begin the game. On the second play from scrimmage it looked as though they would connect on a long pass play, but quarterback Ean Rau over-shot a wide-open receiver. Coleman avoided trouble early and forced a punt.
After the Cougars were coaxed to punt, the Falcons took advantage. On the third play of the drive, Falcon back Ethan Kramas broke loose for a 20-yard touchdown run. After the extra point Abbotsford took a 7-0 lead with 7:38 left in the first quarter.
Coleman put together a 12-play drive on their next possession. The Falcons' defense came up big and forced the Cougars to a third and four where they stuffed the play for a two-yard loss. On fourth and six the ball was fumbled, recovered by the Cougars, but it caused a turnover on downs. Abbotsford returned the favor on their ensuing drive with a fumble recovered by Donovan Salewski.
Early in the second quarter, the Cougars were faced with another fourth down, this time with one yard to go. The Abbotsford defense came up with another big stop, halting the Cougar runner just inches short of the first down marker as the Falcons took over on downs. Again, it took just five plays, with Abbotsford connecting on the long ball. Rau passed to Brock Halopka, with the defender nearly batting the pass away there was just enough room for Halopka to sneak free for 73 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons went up 14-0 with 7:31 left in the half.
"In our offense, you can play when you're one possession down but when you're two possessions down makes it a little harder. We still want to run the ball, control the tempo, and it challenges you a little more to do things you're not comfortable with. I thought our passing game held up well tonight and our line did a nice job blocking," said Cougar Coach Jeff Bronson.
In an important spot, big players stepped up for the Cougars. After a fumble left Coleman faced with a third and 16, Bryce Karban delivered a strike to Josh Pillath down the sidelines for 19 yards and a first down. Then, Karban found a streaking Pillath in the middle of the field where he used his track experience to out-race the defenders to the end zone. On the two-point conversion, Karban faked and made the defender leap into the air, where he stepped underneath and threw a bullet to Jordan Blanchard who made a leaping catch. The 58-yard touchdown and two-point conversion cut the lead to 14-8.
In typical Falcon fashion, a big play led to another Abbotsford TD. This time it was special teams. On the ensuing kickoff, Abbotsford returned the ball from the 14 yard-line back to Coleman's 42 yard-line. Eight plays later, Kramas found the end zone again. His 17-yard jaunt to pay dirt pushed the score to 21-8, a lead the Falcons would carry into halftime.
Coleman started with the ball in the second half but were quickly forced into a three-and-out. On the following Falcon drive, the Cougars made things difficult. Abbotsford was faced with a third and eight. Rau dropped back to pass, scrambled to his left and couldn't find anyone open, so he ran for a one-yard gain and the Falcons punted the ball away.
Coleman looked the best they had all night on their next drive. The Cougars put together a 14-play drive that went 54 yards, featured two, fourth down conversions and three, third down conversions. The final third down conversion was a touchdown as Karban found Austin Tachick from 8-yards out. The duo hooked up again for the two-point conversion making it 21-16 with 2:27 left in the third.
The Falcon rebuttal took just one minute and 42 seconds. On fourth and one, Halopka looked to be stopped near the line of scrimmage, but instead broke a tackle, showed off his speed and raced 56 yards to the end zone. The lead was back to double-digits at the end of the third quarter, 28-16, Abbotsford.
In the final chapter of this epic game, the teams continued their back-and-forth assault. The Cougars mounted a 15-play drive that went 68-yards for a score. On fourth and one from the four yard-line, Jacob Zeitler's used his hard-nosed running and pounded his way for three yards. Tachick took over and punched in a one-yard touchdown, trimming the lead to 28-22 with 7:00 remaining in the game.
Abbotsford took over on the 42 yard-line with a chance to put the game out of reach. Coleman's defense came up big forcing a crucial third down with 15 yards to reach the first down marker. Rau threw a pass that was incomplete, but face-guarding was called and the Falcons drive was still alive. Abbotsford converted another third down, this time with 11 yards to go, which seemed to wear down the Cougar defense. On their final third down of the drive, Halopka took the direct snap, broke a tackle and ran 25 yards to the house. With just 2:10 remaining on the clock, Abbotsford jumped to a 35-22 lead.
"The long, time-consuming drives are great in the second and third quarters but in the fourth quarter you need a little more oomph," stated Bronson.
Coleman was not ready to give up as Blanchard returned the ball all the way to the Falcons' 25 yard-line. On the final play of Coleman's season, a pass intended for Tachick in the end zone was picked off by Abbotsford. The Falcons went on to win, 35-22 in a thriller.
"When they had a shot to make a play, they made the play and we didn't, and that was the difference tonight. That's something we hope we can fix," Bronson described the key differences in the ball game. "Probably the most missed tackles we had all year by far, it was probably more than we have had all season combined. But, you can tell their guys are in those squat racks and did a lot of leg work. They may not be huge up top but they have good lower bodies and ran behind their pads."
Jacob Zeitler was the work-horse for the Cougars as he amassed 94 tough yards on 23 carries. Jordan Blanchard pitched in with 27 yards on eight carries. Bryce Karban finished 5 of 13 for 117 yards and two TDs passing with his number one receiver being Josh Pillath. Pillath hauled in just three catches but made the most of them as he amassed 101 receiving yards, and a touchdown.
"This was the best group of seniors we have ever had as far as adopting our younger kids. Showing them how we do things, correcting what they did wrong, and a few of them picked the others up to go to practice. In terms of that, the record is nice, but what they did as individuals and people is even better." Bronson added about his seniors, "They're going to be hard to replace in a lot of different ways. I watched these guys since they were in junior high, all the way up, and they basically become part of your family."
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