In a game that promised and delivered smash-mouth football at its best, it was the twists and tricks that made the difference.
Class 4A No. 3 Roncalli used a school-record 99-yard kickoff return and a touchdown pass from a reserve running back to pull away from host No. 5 Greenwood 35-14 in a sectional semifinal Friday night.
With the victory, the Rebels (9-2) will play at Cathedral (6-5) next Friday for the sectional title.
Roncalli effectively contained the Woodmen’s high-scoring offense and moved the ball consistently on the ground itself, but it was an unexpected turn that switched momentum for good.
After Greenwood launched a 74-yard drive to tie the score 7-all on a 30-yard run by quarterback Ben Heller with just over a minute left in the first half, the capacity crowd was on its feet in celebration.
Before they had a chance to sit down, the Rebels answered.
Senior Danny Ferry took Griffin Oakes’ kickoff inside the 1, found a wedge at the 25 and raced untouched 99 yards down the left sideline to make it 14-7 at halftime.
“That was just flat out huge,” Rebels coach Bruce Scifres said. “Right before the half, that was certainly a momentum changer. Going into tied at 7-7 at the half is very different from us taking a 7-point lead and momentum into halftime.
“More than any other play, that was the primary momentum changer of the night.”
The Woodmen received the second half kickoff with a chance to answer. But they turned over the ball on a fourth-and-1 gamble at their own 44 when Heller was stopped by Roncalli’s Mike Mullin for a loss.
The Rebels’ offense then made Greenwood pay.
Faking a toss sweep that burned the Woodmen earlier, reserve running back Joe Madden took a reverse handoff and found David Hughett behind the defense for a 35-yard score to make it 21-7.
“They gave us a couple of opportunities,” quarterback Cam Smock said. “They knew we were going to run at them, but they couldn’t stop it. The blocking lined up nice and we just kept doing what we do.”
Greenwood (9-2) was unable to consistently move the ball against a retooled 4-4 defense that put an extra defender in the box to slow down the running game.
“We put that in this week, and we knew they wouldn’t be ready for it,” cornerback David Holtkamp said. “We shut them down.”
The Woodmen gained 299 yards on the ground, but could not string together drives against the Rebels’ containment.
Kole Stogner, the county’s leading rusher, had 23 carries for 150 yards but did not find the end zone until a late fourth quarter score.
“We knew coming in that they had two of the most dynamic runners we had seen all year,” Scifres said of Stogner and Heller. “Our goal was to contain them.”
The Rebels not only contained the Woodmen’s two 1,000-yard rushers, they mounted an impressive ground attack of their own.
Colin McManama and Dylan Evans added third quarter touchdown runs of 7 and 29 yards to put the game out of reach.
Senior Evans, sidelined with an injury for several games earlier this season, led the way with 138 yards on 12 carries. Most of those were off a toss-sweep that effectively sealed off the corners of the Woodmen defense.
“They are a really good football team,” Greenwood coach Mike Campbell said of the Rebels, who are bidding for a ninth state title and appear to have all the pieces in place. “They were physical. We had some breaks that did not go our way.
“That put us in a deficit.”
Still, the coach who saw his team compile its most successful season since 2005, including a Mid-State Conference title, was able to put the sting of the loss in perspective.
“I’m proud of our seniors,” Campbell said. “What they’ve done for our program and our school, you can’t measure in just wins and losses. It’s an attitude, it’s a perception of what Greenwood is, and I am proud to be a part of that.”