The Williamston Hornets won four straight games to stay alive in the state playoff hunt, but their miracle run ended on Friday night, falling 33-13 to Three Rivers in the district final.
The season-ending loss ended a memorable stretch for the Hornets.
“We were struggling this year early on, and these kids fought and came together as a family,” said Williamston head coach Steve Kersten.
A week after playing an almost flawless game against Marshall in a 29-8 win, the Hornets struggled to play their style of football.
The opening quarter was one marred by mistakes for the Hornets. Their first two drives ended with interceptions in Three Rivers’ territory.
“We were inconsistent,” Kersten said. “You can’t do that in a playoff game.”
After the first of those turnovers, the Wildcats capitalized on a 20-yard touchdown run by Cory Brown to make the score, 6-0.
Brown was a terror for the Hornets defense in the game, totaling 243 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
With two minutes left in the half, Williamston tied the game with a 3-yard touchdown by Devin Smyth.
The even score was short-lived though. It took Three Rivers just four plays on its next drive to march the ball 75 yards down the field. A 2-yard touchdown run by Maurice Shanklin made the score 13-6 at the half.
“That was a big one for us,” said Three Rivers head coach JJ Wagner. “We talked about it right at halftime.”
Shortly after halftime, the Three Rivers offense went to work again.
On a third down, quarterback Sam Shutes chucked a 33-yard pass that went off the hands of Brown into Austin Schirk’s, who was standing in the endzone for a Wildcats touchdown and a 20-6 lead.
Trailing by 14 points, the Hornets knew they had to take a risk to get back in the game. On the Wildcats next possession, Williamston ran an all-out punt block that gave them the ball on Three Rivers’ 25-yard line.
The drive ended when Smyth scored again, this time from two yards out, to make the score 20-13. Smyth finished with 112 yards and two touchdowns.
But once again, Three Rivers answered quickly. Less than two minutes after the Smyth touchdown, Shutes scored on a 3-yard run to make the score 26-13.
Three Rivers would add one more score before it was over. It advances to the regional semifinal to play Grand Rapids South Christian.
“They are a very, very good offense,” Kersten said. “We knew they were a good team that would score points.”
At 3-3 on Sept. 28, the Hornets did not appear headed anywhere. But the team ended its season in the district final — an accomplishment that it is proud of.
“The one thing I would say about this group is the resiliency,” Kersten said. “They were tough.”