HOLMES TOWNSHIP – The Wynford Royals walked off the football field feeling numb.
It was not because of the chilly fall Saturday night weather, but because their season was over. The Royals hosted their Week 11 playoff matchup against the Delta Panthers and walked away with a 21-15 loss.
The Royals offense never found a comfortable groove, and the defense had trouble containing the Delta rush attack. The Panthers did not complete a pass and never attempted one in the second half en route to 247 yards rushing.
The Royals could not figure out an offensive game plan and turned the ball over three times after failing to convert on fourth down. That included a fourth down play from the 1-yard line that could have built a comfortable lead when the Royals were up 8-0 late in the first quarter.
“It is on me,” Wynford coach Gabe Helbert said. “That game is on me. We did not punt when we should have and we were going to stick with what we have done all year and credit Delta – they stopped us. You have to score on fourth-and-1. It was an opportunity to put them down two scores and really take them out of their comfort zone.”
The Delta fourth down stop was followed by a rumbling Jesse Beverly run that saw him gain about 15 extra yards carrying several Wynford defenders and getting some help from his offensive line. The span of two plays was the beginning of the momentum shift.
“Delta is a very good football team,” Helbert said. “People can look at the seeds and the records but we said all week that this is one of the top three teams in the region and in my humble opinion, they have a great chance to move on in the playoffs.”
Offensively, the Royals managed 311 yards of total offense but put only 15 points on the board. It seemed as if the Royals would run away with the ballgame taking their opening possession and marching down for a score. Junior quarterback Zach Hoffman delivered on a 13-yard scoring run to put the Royals on the board.
But, after the fourth-and-one turnover, the Royals touched the ball three more times in the game and turned it over twice on downs.
“We moved the ball,” Helbert said. “The main struggle was when we got in the red zone, we did not take advantage of opportunities. They are a very good defense and they have not given up a ton of points to anyone this year. I just feel for our kids right now.”
Delta came out in the second half and dedicated itself to the run game. They ran the ball 33 times in the second half alone. The commitment to the run game also kept the Royals off of the field. Wynford ran just 16 plays in the second half.
“I said all week that they are the best team we will play all year long and I could not even tell you a close second,” Helbert said. “It showed tonight. They are big and physical, but they also have great speed on the edge. I thought Hoffman popped one and was gone but he was hawked down.”
The Royals saw a fourth quarter deficit of 21-8 and mounted a comeback. Hoffman took it upon himself on the sixth offensive drive carrying the ball four times marching down the field for his second score of the game. A Royals defensive stand forced the Panthers to punt and Wynford had the ball with the clock winding down and the game on the line. But the Panthers made a big interception and sealed the victory.
“Our kids had that dog in them and we marched right back down and had the opportunity to win,” Helbert said. “It just did not work out, it is just a hard pill to swallow.”
Hoffman finished the game 7-for-12 passing for 85 yards and ran the ball 25 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Nick Looker had 14 carries for 63 yards and hauled in four balls for 39 yards receiving. Tony Watson led all receivers with two catches for 43 yards.
Beverly was the difference-maker for the Panthers. He finished with 29 carries, 20 in the second half, for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Bailey Storholder also had 10 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown. Dylan Rogers rounded out the rushing attack with eight carries and 36 yards.
The Royals finish the season with a 9-2 record and an outright N10 Championship.
“We have tremendous kids here – We have tremendous 14 senior that unfortunately played their last game here,” Helbert said. “But they left a legacy here winning another league championship and getting us back into the playoffs.”