TRACY - For 40 minutes, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton imposed its will upon Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. Following Shay Wabeke's second touchdown run of the game on a 17-yard scamper, the Knights looked poised to spoil TMB's homecoming, leading 26-16 with 8 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the game.
But then the Panthers, who were struggling to contain Wabeke and bruising RTR running back Brett Vercrusse in the absence of leading tackler Austin Peterson, were issued a challenge by their coaches.
"We went out and told them we needed to win the last eight minutes," Panther co-head coach Derek Flann said. "Whether it was by eight and we lose by two, or if it's 12 or 14, we wanted to win the last eight minutes. And we were able to do that."
Photo by Travis Andries
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton running back Alec Swan, left, busts a run to the sideline while being pursued by a trio of Russell-Tyler-Ruthton defenders during the first half of Friday night’s Little Sioux Conference game in Tracy.
TMB outscored RTR 14-0 in the final eight minutes en route to a 30-26 victory.
The first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns for the Panthers came on a 17-yard strike from quarterback Parker Lanoue to Zach Seaton with 5:37 left on the clock. TMB's two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Panthers down four and needing a touchdown for the win.
In order to score, however, the Panthers first needed to get the ball back. Without Peterson, who was hurt on the game's opening drive, TMB had allowed the Knights to rack up 265 yards on the ground. But with the ball inside their own 30-yard line, the Panthers pulled together and forced a turnover on downs.
The clock read 2:17 as the Panther offense lined up for the eventual game-winning drive. Alec Swan took a handoff 15 yards to start the drive. Lanoue followed up with a nine-yard scramble, before finding Josh Kirk on a 16-yard pass, Kirk's first of three catches on the drive.
Swan bounded for eight yards after the first down, but Lanoue was sacked for a 10-yard loss on the next play. Facing third-and-long with a minute remaining, Lanoue hit Brian Fultz on a seam route for 30 yards.
Lanoue spiked the ball to stop the clock, bringing up second-and-10 from the 15. He then found Kirk, but the play resulted in a three-yard loss.
On third-and-13 from the 18, Lanoue went back to the freshman Kirk, this time on an out-and-up route. The wobbly pass was a touch behind Kirk, but he maneuvered his body for the catch and 18-yard score with just 42 seconds remaining.
"(Kirk) was in the slot and ran an out-and-up down the side line and made a great grab," Lanoue said, recapping the play after the game. "I threw it behind him a little bit. He just went up, made a play and got in the end zone."
Swan speared his way into the end zone on the successful conversion to give the Panthers a crucial four-point edge.
RTR had a chance to score, just 30 yards out of the end zone with five seconds remaining, but Wabeke's pass found the end zone turf with the clock showing all zeros.
"We work that two-minute drill a lot in practice," Flann said of his team's final drive. "And Parker runs it pretty well. He knows what plays to call going up to the line, and he's got confidence in his receivers. We get a nice catch by Fultz down the middle, and Josh Kirk catches a touchdown as a freshman on kind of a wobbly ball."
Lanoue had 63 of his 250 passing yards on the game-winning drive. He also figured on each TMB touchdown, throwing two in the fourth quarter and rushing for two earlier in the game.
The Panthers, who rallied from a 14-8 halftime deficit, won the game in the fourth quarter, but it likely would have been impossible if not for a clutch forced fumble from Swan during the third quarter.
Following a sluggish first half, the Panthers drove for a score on the opening drive of the second half to take a 16-14 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Wabake fielded the kick and meandered his way 96 yards. He neared the goal line, when Swan caught him from behind and punched the ball loose. It sailed through the back of the endzone for a Panther touchback.
The averted momentum swing was just enough to kindle the fire of belief that fueled the fourth-quarter comeback.
With the win, the Panthers improve to 3-1 on the year (2-1 Little Sioux Conference). They will face a stern test this Friday when they travel to Minneota to face the Vikings, who knocked off Class A No. 1 Dawson-Boyd 18-14 Friday. The Knights find themselves still searching for the season's first win (0-4 overall, 0-4 Little Sioux Conference). Their next chance is Friday when they host the MACCRAY Wolverines in Tyler.
RTR7 7 6 6-26
TMB0 8 8 14-30
R-Shay Wabeke 4 run (Fernando Yanez kick), 4:34.
T-Parker Lanoue 9 run (Alec Swan run), 5:31.
R-Brett Vercrusse 4 run (Yanez kick), 3:04.
T-Lanoue 1 run (Swan pass to Austin Gleis), 10:46.
R-Wabeke 2 run (run failed), 3:15.
R-Wabeke 17 run (run failed), 8:05.
T-Zach Seaton 17 pass from Lanoue (pass failed), 5:37.
T-Josh Kirk 18 pass from Lanoue (Swan run), 0:42.
Rushing: R-Shay Wabeke 27-204; T-Alec Swan 13-79, Parker Lanoue 20-70.
Passing (comp-att-yard-int): R-Wabeke 5-13-62-1; T-Lanoue 16-23-250-1.
Receiving: R-Dylan Kor 4-48; T-Brian Fultz 2-87, Josh Kirk 5-60.