Miracle on Melrose
By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– Football teaches young men many life lessons in addition to the fundamentals of the game. One such lesson is to never give up in the face of adversity.
Friday, Oct. 4, the West High Trojans applied that lesson and in the process retained their perfect record this season with a homecoming win over Dubuque Hempstead.
“The chips were down again, but they keep finding a way (to win),” said coach Brian Sauser after the Trojans’ 39-35 win. “Tonight is about our kids never saying die, and playing until all of the zeros are up on the scoreboard.”
West was down 35-32 with 49 seconds left on the clock. Sauser and senior Nate Boland had a quick chat, with the standout quarterback asking his coach to, “just give him the ball,” Sauser said. Boland scampered about desperately trying not to get sacked, and then Sauser yelled “Boland,” and pointed down field.
Way down field, where Tyler Eads stood, wide open.
Boland launched a long bomb pass, connected with Eads for a 49-yard pass and bought the Trojans a first down. Boland then kept the ball and advanced to another first down, just three yards short of the goal line. Micah Kelsay gutted it out to get the ball across the line to score, and Connor Gordon nailed the extra point kick to give West the edge with eight seconds to spare.
The Mustangs also refused to say die, and rather than just take a knee to end the game, they launched a drive, which came to a screeching halt as Anthony Batie picked-off a pass and nearly scored again for the Trojans as time ran out.
It was evident early on this would be a tight battle as the Trojans were forced to settle for a field goal at the end of the first quarter, and then watched the Mustangs gallop across the goal line early in the second for a 7-3 lead. Kelsay earned his first touchdown of the night at the end of a retaliatory strike by the Trojans just minutes later, giving West a 10-7 lead.
The back-and-forth trading of touchdowns continued with the Mustangs scoring again for a 14-10 lead with 4:24 remaining in the half. A Trojan ground attack pounded the ball downfield for a Boland touchdown (and Gordon kick) with just over three-and-a-half minutes to the break. The Mustangs rallied back, but this time they were forced to attempt a field goal, which failed giving West the 17-14 lead at the half.
Hempstead opened the third quarter with a touchdown. The extra point kick was botched and fumbled, with the Mustangs recovering and converting the bobble into a successful two-point conversion. A penalty was called on the play, but the score stood with the Mustangs ahead 22-17 while a pair of zebras attempted to explain their rationale to an unhappy Sauser.
The rest of the quarter was tough for West as their next drive died on downs, giving the Mustangs excellent field position, which they capitalized on to score again on a quick run. With the good kick, the visitors took a 29-17 lead. Again the West drive went nowhere fast and the quarter ended with Hempstead in possession.
The final period started out with the Mustangs looking at a fourth down, leading to a punt to the Trojans. Boland passed to Batie, setting the stage for Kelsay to run the ball in to narrow the gap to six points, 29-23. Boland kept the ball on a two-point play to cut the deficit to 29-25 with just over 10 minutes left to settle things. The Mustangs burned up half of that time on a drive that ended with another failed field goal attempt as the Trojan defense roared to life.
With 4:03 to go, Boland found himself in the end zone again. Gordon’s kick was good and West had the 32-29 lead.
Hempstead put up a valiant effort to spoil West’s Homecoming, picking up their last touchdown with 49 seconds remaining.
After the game, Sauser was asked about sweating out the game and staying calm on the sideline. “We try not to get too worked up. Tonight is a little bit different. It’s never over until it’s over… but it does creep into your mind like, ‘man, oh man. Are we really going to get beat?’ So for our guys to pull it out of the fire like that is incredible. It was just an incredible effort by our kids. Tonight is about our kids never saying die and just playing until all of the zeros are up there like you tell them to. I just couldn’t be prouder.” Sauser also tipped his cap to Hempstead. “Hempstead’s a hell of a football team, my goodness, we knew that going in, that 34 (Matt Zenner) for them is as tough as it comes, it’s amazing what they’ve done in a year improving.”
Next up is a trip across town to City High for the Battle of the Boot Friday, Oct. 11. West reclaimed the bronzed boot with a 44-0 blowout at home last year.