It was a contest with a league title on the line for team. A game with playoff implications on the line for the other team.
But more than anything else, this was a rivalry game with Harper Creek hosting Marshall in this classic clash between these two longtime foes.
And the game played out that way with every point coming hard and every yard coming with a price. In the end, it was just a couple yards and one play that would make the difference as Harper Creek held on to beat Marshall, 21-20, to clinch a share of the Interstate 8 Conference title in football action at Harper Creek on Friday.
After scoring a touchdown with :19 remaining, Marshall elected to go for a 2-point conversion to try and win the game. Harper Creek was able to stop the Redhawks on a pass play and held on to get the victory.
“We drove the ball down the field in the final minutes, scored a touchdown and we needed just one more play. If we make it, I’m a hero and if we don’t I’m a goat. But that’s alright, we were here to try to win,” Marshall coach Jason Stealy said. “I had it in my mind on that last drive that if we got in the end zone I wanted to go for two because I believe in these guys. If that happened again, I would go for two again.”
With Harper Creek leading 21-14, Marshall took over the ball with just 2:41 remaining. The Redhawks proceeded to drive 75 yards down the field before Brad Heidenreich found Cam Face for a touchdown pass from two yards out to cut the lead to 21-20 with :19 remaining. Marshall then lined up for the 2-point conversion and after Harper Creek was able to break up the pass, the Beavers had held on for the win.
“We had a feeling they were going to go for two if they got in and they did,” Harper Creek coach Mike Seedorff said. “I think if I was in the same situation, I would have gone for two as well. That’s what you do in a rivalry game.”
Harper Creek’s win over its rival also clinched a share of the Interstate 8 Conference, ending league play at 6-1 on the season, to share the crown with Jackson Lumen Christi. It is the first I-8 title for the Beavers since joining the league.
“That was our goal, to win the league title,” Seedorff said. “This is our 60th football team at Harper Creek all-time and it’s only the 14th time Harper Creek has won a league title in school history in football. They aren’t easy to come by, so they are pretty special.”
The game started fast as Marshall scored just 31 seconds into the contest as the Redhawks’ Brad Feasel took off on a 66-yard run on the first snap from scrimmage to get the ball down to the three. Marshall’s Sean Kent took it in from there for the first touchdown on a run.
Feasel had a huge first half, going for over 200 yards on the ground by himself. Feasel finished with 244 yards on 26 carries for Marshall.
But Marshall wasn’t able to take advantage of all those yards as Harper Creek stayed close on the scoreboard. The only other touchdown of the first half came on a halfback pass for 23 yards by the Beavers’ Dawson Bartlett to Nic Grable to make it 7-7 with 6:36 left in the half.
Marshall took the lead again as Heidenreich found Face for a 10-yard touchdown pass to give the Redhawks a 14-7 lead with 8:21 left in the third quarter.
The back-and-forth nature of the game continued as Harper Creek scored on its next possession as Bartlett had a 38-yard touchdown run to tie the game once again at 14-14 with 6:32 left in the third.
The momentum turned toward the Beavers in the fourth quarter on a miscue by Marshall. The Redhawks had a bad snap on a punt attempt deep in their own side of the field and Harper Creek tackled the punter and took over the ball on the 14.
The Beavers scored two plays later on a 12-yard run by Bartlett to give Harper Creek a 21-14 lead with 2:41, setting up the final drama by Marshall in the closing seconds.
“We had some chances to capitalize on some things in the first half and we didn’t. Then we made the mistake late in the fourth quarter that gave them a chance to take the lead. So it came down to a few things in the end,” Stealy said.
Bartlett finished with 183 yards for Harper Creek on 16 carries to lead the offense. Dakota Walbeck had 11.5 tackles to lead the Beavers on defense with Jacory McNutt and Drew Michael each getting 7.5 stops as Ethan Bishop added a key interception.
Devante Gonsalez had 7.5 tackles to lead Marshall and Face had two interceptions as the Redhawks fall to 4-4 on the year as their hopes to get to six wins and an automatic playoff spot have come to an end.
With the victory over its rival in front of the big home crowd, the Beavers improve to 7-1 on the season.
“Year in and year out, Marshall vs. Harper Creek is always a great game to be involved in and to watch and I don’t think it let anyone down here tonight,” Seedorff said.