After playing the role of hero most of the night, quarterback Jack Schelhaas was tackled a half-yard short on fourth down with the clock waning in Saturday’s Class 11AAA football championship. O’Gorman, trailing 27-24, took over with 1:22 at its own 10.
The Warriors needed a stop in order to earn their fourth state championship since 2009 and put back-to-back 3-6 seasons firmly in the rear-view.
In the game’s crucial moment, Washington got a lift from one of its team captains, Michael Enalls, who hadn’t played significant action since the team’s last game against the Knights back on Sept. 18.
Enalls snagged Luke Fritch’s sideline pass near midfield to effectively give the Warriors the title.
“When you have to sit on the sidelines and watch your team make plays — especially the Roosevelt games, the Brandon game — all those games I had to watch and think, ‘I could have made an impact. I could have done that,’” Enalls said. “Then to finally be out there … I can’t describe it. It’s awesome.”
Washington’s fan and student sections erupted, and Schelhaas returned to the field to play the rest out in victory formation.
Washington, which knocked off Brandon Valley 28-21 in the semifinals, finishes the season at 11-1.
O’Gorman, which took out Roosevelt 27-23 in the semifinals, ends the year at 9-3.
“The kids came out and played hard. We did a lot of good things and we did a lot of good things, but they just ended up making a few plays at the end that we didn’t,” O’Gorman coach Steve Kueter said.
After trailing throughout, Washington took its first lead of the game with 8:12 left in the final quarter. Needing only 2 yards on third down at the O’Gorman 24, Schelhaas lofted up a 50-50 ball for Ty Smith.
Antonio Casiello, standing just 5-foot-7, high-pointed the ball and appeared to get the interception, but Smith wrestled it away as they hit the ground. The back judge raised his arms to signal touchdown and Washington seized a 27-24 lead.
“That kid intercepted the pass,” Washington coach Chad Stadem said in reference to Casiello, “and Ty took it out one-handed. Just took it right out. That was the game. That was the difference in the game right there.”
Josh Garry sacked Fritsch on third down on the Knights’ next possession to force a three-and-out punt. Washington milked time off the clock and made it all the way to the OG 11 when Schelhaas’ fourth-down keeper came up short.
The stop set up a final chance for the Knights, and they backed out of the shadow their end zone with passes to Peery (13 yards) and Mark Pals (9), while Casiello moved the chains on third-and-one from the 32. Enalls sat on the the out route on the crucial interception.
“We almost had him back for Brandon Valley and we held him off,” Stadem said, “and we got him in this game and I said, ‘Michael, your legs aren’t there. You’ve just got to give us — with the snaps you get, 10 or 15, make the most of it.’ To see him back on the field …”
With O’Gorman doubling down against the run, the big plays for Washington needed to come through the air. Schelhaas answered with an MVP performance, going 20 of 29 for 316 yards and three scores and a team-high 61 yards rushing.
He had some big help from his big-play receivers in senior Ty Smith and sophomore Logan Uttecht. Smith finished with seven catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Uttecht also snagged seven, and mustered several big plays on key third downs. As a general rule, both teams showed remarkable ability moving the chains: the Knights were 8-for-13 on third down while the Warriors were 12-of-15.
“They put it all on the line tonight. They put their bodies on the line. Logan was diving for balls, and Ty was all over the place,” Schelhaas said. “I can’t say enough about them. I can’t say enough. They make me look good. Especially when I’m not at my best — they make me look good.”
Make no mistake, though, Schelhaas was at his best.
After his 23-yard touchdown strike to Uttecht late in the third quarter, the Warriors had amassed nine plays of 15-plus yards, and Schelhaas was involved in all of them, including the team’s longest run (16 yards).
“The coaches put the faith in us and our guys made some great plays tonight.” Schelhaas said. “The receiving corps and the O-line did fantastic. Those guys make my life easy, especially when Ty can go and snag a ball for the game-winning touchdown.”
The Knights were in control in a one-sided first quarter but big plays shifted momentum right after the half.
Down 17-7 at the break, Washington’s Josh Freese pounced on O’Gorman’s botched-snap fumble, which set up the Warriors at the O’Gorman 5-yard line. Two plays later the Warriors opened up a big hole for Fitzsimmons, whose 5-yard score made it a 3-point game at 17-14.
The Warriors gave one back on their next possession — which started at midfield after denying Makwinja on fourth down — when Billy Daniel forced the ball out of Fitzsimmons’s hands and Jacob Tupper recovered.
Early on it was all O’Gorman. The defense forced a pair of Warrior punts on their first two possessions. The Knights’ first three possessions ended in scores.
A face mask penalty from Dodi Makwinja gave the Warriors their only first down of the first quarter. The Knights’ offense, meanwhile, got the big play going right away. Makwinja and Boston Bauer moved the Knights deep into Washington territory on their first two plays. Washington’s defense held with a little help from an O’Gorman false start, but the Knights led 3-0 after Kristian Jakowicz knocked in a 27-yard field goal.
The Knights forced a three-and-out and churned out an 11-play, 62-yard scoring drive sparked by a 29-yard sweep by Bauer up the right sideline. On the first play of the second quarter, Makwinja willed a 1-yard touchdown with a huge leap over the lines and the Knights led 10-0.
Makwinja led the Knights with 72 yards rushing on 12 attempts, while Fritsch added 16 carries for 65 yards and a score. Boston Bauer added eight carries for 44 yards. Peery finished with five catches for 69 yards. Two-way lineman/linebacker Billy Daniel led with 13 tackles, two for loss, and the forced fumble.
After their first two drives netted minus-one yard rushing and 11 yards total, the Warriors took to the air. What followed was a grinding, 19-play, 89-yard drive that saw the Warriors convert six third downs. Schelhaas, who was a crisp 6-for-7, uncorked some tight throws on timing routes to move the chains. A 20-yard completion to Uttecht moved the Warriors inside the 5-yard line and Schelhaas hit Smith two plays later for an 8-yard touchdown.
O’Gorman answered back, but not before an illegal block wiped out a would-be touchdown on the kickoff return by Bauer. Instead, the Knights churned out a nine-play, 89-yard drive and put the ball in Jack Peery’s hands to do so. Peery moved the chains with a pair of sideline grabs before ripping off a 50-yard touchdown off a reverse.
Down 17-7 with under a minute left, Schelhaas connected with Uttecht twice to get the Warriors to the O’Gorman 22. Washington had a timeout left but didn’t call it, and Smith’s 9-yard sideline catch drained the remaining clock and the Knights took a 10 point lead into the half.
Washington interception will send Warriors to 27-24 win over O'Gorman. pic.twitter.com/nmGmTRzcor— Argus Leader Sports (@ArgusSports) November 15, 2015
SF Washington 0 7 14 6-27
SF O’Gorman 3 14 7 0-24
SFO-GF, Jakowicz 27, 5:56
SFO-Makwinja 1 run (Jakowicz kick), 11:58
SFW-Smith 8 pass from Schelhaas (Walker kick), 4:52
SFO-Peery 50 run (Jakowicz kick), :53
SFW-Fitzsimmons 5 run (Walker kick), 11:17
SFO-Fritsch 3 run (Jakowicz kick), 3:00
SFW-Uttecht 23 pass from Schelhaas (Walker kick), 1:00
SFW-Smith 24 pass from Schelhaas (kick failed), 8:12
First downs 20 17
Rushes-yards 38-93 40-204
Passing yards 316 112
Passing 20-29-0 11-19-1
Punts-yards 2-27 2-41
Penalties-yards 5-54 5-45
RUSHING: SFO, Schelhaas 16-61, Bren 2-17, Fitzsimmons 17-14, Kpeayeh 2-3. SFW, Makwinja 12-72, Fritsch 16-65, Peery 1-50, Bauer 8-44, Casiello 2-(minus 3).
PASSING: SFO, Schelhaas 20-29-0, 316 yards. SFW, Fritsch 11-19-1, 112 yards.
RECEIVING: SFO, Uttecht 7-151, Smith 7-108, Bren 3-22, Bolden 1-20, Fitzsimmons 1-11, Benson 1-4. SFW, Peery 5-69, Casiello 4-27, Pals 1-9, Bauer 1-7.