Eaton Rapids had kept Tecumseh from scoring each of the four previous times the Indians entered the red zone on Friday night.
But the biggest stop — on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the game’s closing seconds — preserved a 24-20 Greyhounds victory that gave Eaton Rapids its first ever district title in football.
“The last play, I knew they were going to run it, we had a good feeling the quarterback was going to keep it, and our defensive line came up big,” Greyhounds junior Jaedin Sklapsky said. “It’s a crazy experience to just be part of it, to make history at our school.”
“I have tremendous kids, and a tremendous coaching staff,” Eaton Rapids coach Mike Smith said. “I’m just so very lucky.”
When the Indians were first-and-goal from the Eaton Rapids 1-yard line with about a minute left in the the game, it looked like the Greyhounds’ season might come to an end.
Instead, Sklapsky stopped Tecumseh’s Mitchell Meger short of the goal line, the Indians spiked the ball to stop the clock and were called for an illegal procedure penalty.
“A lot of things were going through my mind,” Sklapsky said. “I knew that I had to come up with a big play, and I was fortunate enough to get it.”
On third down, Meger gained five yards to get back to the 1. But in the haste to get the fourth down play off with the clock winding down to the game’s final seconds, a Tecumseh running back evidently didn’t get to the right spot because when senior quarterback Nick Cowen went to hand the ball off to him, no one was there to receive it. Cowen was immediately surrounded and tackled by Greyhound defensive linemen.
Eaton Rapids advances to play at DeWitt in its regional final. When Tecumseh scored on a 46-yard run 82 secsonds into the game, Cowen overthrew a wide open receiver, and they marched down to the Greyhound 4 on their first three drives, it looked like the Indians might dominate Eaton Rapids the way they had done to Mason in a 27-7 win a week earlier at Mason.
But after a 3-yard loss on third down, Greyhounds junior Sheldon Holmes batted down a pass to keep the game at 6-0.
After Eaton Rapids took a 7-6 lead in the second quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass from junior Jared McDaniel to senior Kyle Sawyer, the Greyhounds stopped the Indians again when they reached as far as the 6. Sophomore Lane McVicker nailed Tecumseh’s Wyatt Cadmus for a 3-yard loss and then junior James Cruz intercepted a pass in the end zone.
Following a 26-yard third-quarter field goal by Eaton Rapids senior Samuel Masteller that made it 10-6, the Greyhounds stopped the Indians at the ER 13-yard line. Slapsky then opened the fourth quarter by returning an intercpetion 80 yards for a TD.
“I was just hoping to knock it down,” Sklapsky said. “Once I caught the ball, I was in complete shock.”
When McDaniel connected with Cruz to make it 24-6 with 7:16 remaining, it looked like Eaton Rapids would raise its all-time football playoff record to 2-0 convincingly.
But Tecumseh sophomore Jason Black returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a TD to make it 24-12, and Cowen – who was 1 for 13 passing at that point – hit three passes in a row to reach the Greyhound 13.
But Eaton Rapids stopped them again. This time is was Sawyer who batted away a pass in the end zone.
The Greyhounds came inches from making a first down, but had to punt the ball away. This time, Cowen hit Michael Birt for a 25-yard TD. A successful 2-point conversion run made it 24-20 with 1:57 left.
Tecumseh recovered an onside kick at the Greyhound 43, and gained 17 yards on a 9-yard pass and 8-yard run before a pass interference penalty moved the Indians from the 26 to the 13. runs of 5, 4 and 3 yards got them down to the 1 to set up Eaton Rapids’ goal line stand.
“My defensive coordinator, Mitch Zajac, does a great job along with Eric Brantley and Zach Hannon,” Smith said. “This is a total team effort.
“We just go play, and we have fun, and it seems to work,” he added. “My kids aren’t afraid of losing. It’s just like rocket football for them.”