By Brian McKim
A huge crowd was on hand Friday night at Jug Brown Stadium as the Falls City Tigers took on the Rockets from Syracuse in a winner take all game. Not only would the victorious team win the district title but they would continue their season with a playoff berth.
The Tigers won the coin toss and deferred to the second half so Syracuse would receive the opening kickoff. The Rockets would begin their first drive at their own 18 yard line. After two short gains the Rockets quarterback dropped back and threw a high floating pass that somehow found the hands of a Syracuse receiver for a 65 yard touchdown. The PAT was good and with 10:45 to go in the first quarter the Rockets led the Tigers 7-0.
FC started their first drive of the contest with good field position at their own 36 yard line. The Tigers moved the ball down field well, including a big fourth down and four conversion by Senior Zayne Heckenlively down to the Syracuse 31 yard line. The Tigers could not convert a second fourth down opportunity and turned the ball over to Syracuse at the Rockets 24 yard line. The Tiger defense came up big though and forced a Syracuse punt after just three plays.
After the punt FC would begin their next drive on their own 43 yard line with 2:44 to go in the opening quarter. After a couple of nice runs by Heckenlively and the aide of a personal foul penalty the Tigers had the ball first and ten from the Rockets 18 yard line. On first down the Tigers were called for a block in the back penalty were pushed back to the 26 yard line of Syracuse. That is where the first quarter ended with the Rockets up 7-0.
Falls City was unable to finish off the drive and Syracuse would regain possession at their own 26. “Offensively we just couldn’t get the ball in the end zone, penalties and turnovers were the big culprits again this week,” said Coach Fritz. The defense came up big again for Falls City forcing a three and out after a sack on third down by Dalton Kennel. However the Tigers were unable to take advantage of good field position and turned the ball over on downs at the Rocket 40 yard line.
On the fourth play of the next drive the Falls City defense came up big again this time it was Heckenlivey with the interception. Zayne zig zagged back across the field all the way down to the Rockets 20 yard line before being brought down. Falls City’s offense didn’t squander this opportunity. On second and goal from the two Heckenlively sprinted up the middle and dove across the goal line for the score. Ed Fritz carried the ball up the middle for the conversion putting FC ahead 8-7 with 2:27 to play in the half.
The celebration was short lived though as Syarcuse took the following kickoff 85 for a touchdown. It was a crushing blow for the Tigers heading into halftime. The Rockets were stopped on the conversion try but led 13-8 heading into intermission.
The Tigers received the ball to start the second half with hopes of getting back on the board. However on third down and 11 from their own 45 yard line Heckenlively’s pass was picked off and the Rockets would take over at their 47 yard line. The Tigers defense would bend but not break forcing a FG attempt from 23 yards out. The kick was wide left and the defense had done their job keeping Syracuse off the scoreboard. The turnover bug bit FC again this time Heckenlively, trying to throw the ball as he was being hit, was picked off with Syracuse returning it to the Tiger 14 yard line with 4:00 to go in the third quarter. Falls City’s defense came up big again stopping the Rockets and with the help of a dead ball personal foul penalty forced a fourth down and 21 from the 25 yard line. The pass to the end zone was broken up by Heckenlively and Noah Milam and the Tigers again turned the Rockets away. The third quarter came and went without either team putting any points on the board.
To begin the fourth quarter the Tigers were forced to punt from their own 42 yard line. Heckenlively booted the ball all the way down the field pinning the Rockets at their own five yard line. On third down and one from the 14 the ball carrier was brought down in the backfield by the Tiger defense forcing a punt by the Rockets. FC would begin the drive at the Syracuse 38 yard line still trailing 13-8 with 9:21 to go in the ballgame. After a couple plays and a 17 yard carry by Milam the Tigers were knocking on the door at the two yard line. That’s when Heckenlively kept the ball to the left side of the line and went into the end zone for the touchdown. The conversion run by Heckenlively was also good and the Tigers had their biggest lead of the contest 16-13 with 7:29 to go in the game.
As what seemed to be the case all evening, Syracuse had an answer each time the Tigers scored. This time they drove down the field for 65 yards in nine plays for the score with 3:06 left on the clock giving them a 19-16 lead. Falls City had Syracuse in a third and 10 from their 35 yard line but a pass across the middle allowed the receiver to get all the way down to the Tiger 16 yard line. Then on third and goal from the five the Syracuse quarterback fired a bullet across the middle for the score.
With plenty of time remaining the Tigers started their next drive on their own 35 yard line. However on third and 13 with a trips set to the right and one receiver to the left Heckenlively took a five step drop and threw his third interception of the night, giving the Rockets the ball on the Tiger 27 yard line. After using all three of its timeouts the Tigers got the ball back after stopping the Rockets on a fourth and five from the Tiger 22 yard line with 1:24 to go.
The Tigers had the ball at their own 18 yard to begin the drive. On first down Collin Cook’s pass down the left sideline fell incomplete. After a false start penalty against the Tigers, Cook’s next pass across the middle found a Syracuse defender which would end the game and the Tigers season.
“Our four interceptions were kind of a combination of both Syracuse being in the right spot and lack of execution,” said Coach Fritz.
Falls City gave it everything they had. As was the case throughout the season the Tigers were just a play or two from winning the game. Big plays and costly turnovers doomed the Tigers. After the game, Coach Fritz spoke to his team, telling them that they had nothing to hang their heads about.
“Our effort level was better than it had been all year long. I’m really proud of their effort in this game,” said Fritz. Falls City finishes the season with a 4-4 record.
Zayne Heckenlively was the workhorse on offense carrying the ball 34 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. On defense Dalton Kennel led the Tigers with 14 total stops. Ed Fritz, Trevis Keller, and Colton Hayworth all had big nights on the defensive side of the ball.