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SIDNEY — Those pesky final few yards of the red zone proved to be the St. Marys football team’s undoing in a 19-16 season-opening loss at Sidney.
St. Marys’ offense had first and goal situations three times on Friday night and emerged with only three points in those trips. The Roughriders’ most excruciating failure to convert came in the game’s closing minutes, as St. Marys had the potential game-winning touchdown pass slip through its hands on fourth and goal from the three yard line.
“We were our own worst enemy,” St. Marys third-year head coach Greg Phillips said. “We stopped ourselves.”
St. Marys at Sidney Football Photo Gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smeveningleader/sets/72157635304396759/show/
The Roughriders appeared to be on the cusp of a breakthrough victory in dramatic fashion. After getting the ball back with just over five minutes left in the game on Jared Knous’ interception in the end zone, the Riders marched ball down the field by breaking off big chunks of yardage with their running game.
Ryan Slife, Isaac Fitzgerald and Trent Wale each had runs of 11 yards or more to start the drive. A 10-yard Patrick Obringer run pushed St. Marys to the 10 on a 10-yard run for a first and goal.
“We were executing, we were calling anything we wanted to call,” Phillips said. “When we blocked it, we can be pretty good.”
But St. Marys picked up one yard on first and goal, lost a yard on second and goal and ran for just two yards on third and goal after an encroachment penalty on Sidney put the ball at the five.
On fourth and goal on the three yard line, St. Marys eschewed the potential game-tying field goal and went for the win.
The dice came up snake eyes on the part of the field that was trouble for the Riders all night. St. Marys quarterback Isaac Fitzgerald play-faked and then ran a bootleg to the right where he had a pair of receivers fanning out open in the end zone. Fitzgerald’s pass went to tight end Quinn Zaerr, who had the ball go in and out of his hands for the incompletion.
It was a gut-wrenching moment, Phillips admitted, but he thought about all the previous cracks his team had at the end zone earlier in the contest more than the drop.
“That dropped pass at the end of the game in the end zone? We don’t even put ourselves in that situation if we take care of ourselves throughout the game, didn’t fumble the ball a yard from the end zone, little things like that that are killing us... The kids played hard. Their guts are ripped out. But we didn’t lose that game because of a dropped pass. Far from it.”
Sidney walked the tightrope and emerged on the other side with an unlikely victory.
“We bucked up when we needed to,” Sidney head coach Adam Doenges said. “Both teams had their chances to take over the game and neither team did. That’s a first-game thing.”
The Roughriders and Yellow Jackets, who played an overtime game that Sidney won 13-10 a season ago at Skip Baughman Stadium, were in another doozy to start the 2013 campaign.
Sidney struck first on a wacky touchdown throw from Sidney quarterback Jordan Fox to Scott Stewart after the shotgun snap had sailed over Fox’s head. Fox picked it up and threw a perfect fade pass over the St. Marys defenders for the early touchdown.
Fox went 14-of-30 passing for 208 yards with a touchdown and an interception. After completing four of his first six passes on Friday, St. Marys brought heat on the senior signal caller in the second half.
St. Marys cut into the lead with Clayton Trogdlon’s 40-yard field goal that capped a 10-play Roughrider scoring drive. But it only came after a St. Marys had a first and goal from the six yard line before a holding penalty derailed any hopes of a touchdown.
Sidney went back up by seven points when kicker Danny Dean booted a 30-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in the first quarter — points off a Roughrider turnover when Fitzgerald threw an interception at the St. Marys 19 yard line.
The Roughriders tied the game with another long touchdown drive — an 11-play jaunt that covered 73 yards on the ground. Fitzgerald kept the ball himself off left tackle and bowled into the end zone for the nine-yard score. Trogdlon’s extra point made it 10-10.
St. Marys had a chance to take the lead after the Riders sacked Jordan Fox and caused a fumble that Matt Alexander scooped up. St. Marys drove the ball down to the one yard line, but on third and goal Trent Wale fumbled and Sidney took over at the one.
“The inconsistency is killing us,” Phillips said. “We’ll have three or four straight plays where we block everything perfectly and then we’ll take one play off. We’ve just got to learn to execute in pressure.”
Sidney drove the ball 89 yards to set up a go-ahead field goal in the waning seconds of the first half when Dean hit a 27-yard field goal to put the Jackets up 13-10.
St. Marys turned a turnover into quick points midway through the third quarter to take a 16-13 lead. After Sidney fumbled a lateral pass that was recovered by Chase Roop, St. Marys fullback Trent Wale ran 48 yards to paydirt on an inside trap. Wale finished the game as the Riders’ leading rusher with 97 yards on 11 carries to go with the touchdown. The extra point sailed wide right.
Sidney went up for good late in the third quarter on Fox’s 11-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds left. It capped a 12-play 72-yard drive for the Yellow Jackets. Fox finished the game with 53 yards rushing on 23 carries.