photo by Alan Hale
Canadian defense grounds Stratford running game
Many times, fair or unfair, teams such as Canadian, who utilize a wide open offense build around the forward pass will be given the label of a “finesse” team, or even more damming in the manly world of football, a soft team; one that does not like contact. Koetting knew that in regard to his team, nothing could be farther from the truth. He knew his defense was a fearless hitting machine. Their team pursuit when flying to the ball was a real strength that would be invaluable as the playoffs progressed. Even though his line was often out sized, on both sides of the line of scrimmage, Koetting grew more confident as the season progressed that they were capable of succeeding on the highest levels of Class 1 play. His young line was coming together on the offensive side, while the defense anchored in the middle by seniors Ty Morrow and Salvador Escambia, now reinforced by the return from an early season injury of senior linebacker Colton Cades, had been solid all season.
Still, the Wildcats had lost three times when, in each game, they had not taken advantage of last second opportunities to win. Late minute letdowns, on both offense and defense, had proved fatal in all three losses. Koetting harped all week to his team that he needed someone to step up when the game was on the line and make the big play, make a statement. We have play makers, so let’s see those play makers make plays, was the challenge he issued.
“We need that opportunity, with the game on the line, to show that we have people who will step up and bust somebody in the mouth when we need to.” That opportunity, in perfect fashion, would present itself against the Elks, and the Canadian player to lay down the hammer would be an unlikely candidate.
With 2:02 left to play in the game and Canadian nursing a precarious 3 point lead, Stratford faced a 4th and 1 at the Canadian 25 yard line. A little long for a game tying field goal attempt, the Elks, a macho self-styled team who had for years prided themselves on winning the battle in the trenches, had the Canadian defense on its heels, methodically picking up 5 to 8 yards per pop, inexorably moving down the field for what they intended to be a game winning touchdown . There was no doubt what their choice for a 4th down play would be.
The script was playing out eerily in the same scenario that had seen the Wildcats lose earlier to both Perryton and Sunray: the offense had been inside the red zone with the lead and under five minutes to play. A score in either situation would have given Canadian a two possession lead and probably sealed the win. In both games, the offense failed to produce points. In both games, the defense then allowed the opposition to march down the field for the winning score. Here we go again.
But tonight would be different. Coach Carr had his defense in a short yardage alignment and had inserted an extra lineman, Camron Pearson, a 5’7, 225 pound senior fire plug. Having seen little playing time early in the season on defense, Pearson made the most of this opportunity, meeting Elk’s running back Alex Chavoya square in the hole at the line of scrimmage and emphatically pile driving him backwards for a classic “pancake” take down tackle.
It was a signature play, a season defining effort. The Cats had shown they could go toe to toe with a physical team, slug it out for 48 minutes, and come out the victor.