With an even tougher second-half schedule lying ahead of them, the Tanagers desperately needed a win at Canton Friday, Sept. 18 to go into last week's bye with a head of steam, to even their record at 2-2, and to strengthen their regional seeding status.
But as the minutes wasted away in the 7-7 deadlock, defeat seemed almost certain. When the minutes dwindled down to seconds, defeat became inevitable. But a life's lesson was re-learned on the grass near the Canton end zone – you must keep playing, battling, fighting down to the very last play.
When the C-Hawks reached the Vermillion 1-yard line and had a first-down situation with a minute to play, how could anyone expect anything but Canton's plunging over for the winning score? But the Tanager defense refused to let the expected happen.
On first down Canton's ball carrier lost the handle. Though the C-Hawks recovered the fumble, they were backed up three yards.
On second-and-goal from the four with 40 seconds left, Canton tried Jeremiah Peterson, but the Tanager line smothered him after a gain of only a yard.
Still Canton had two more downs. After a timeout to plan their strategy, the C-Hawks had 19 seconds left when they snapped the ball on third down. Vermillion's defense knocked the ball loose again, and this time the bouncing ball went into the end zone where it was recovered by Kylen Freidel.
The Tanagers had somehow snatched another chance from the jaws of defeat. They took one handoff from the 20, and time expired in the fourth quarter.
Losing the coin flip, Canton had to go on offense first in overtime. On third down the C-Hawks scored on a five-yard TD pass from Jake Roskam to Ben Sharon though the Tanagers pressured the quarterback before he threw. However, the extra-point kick was missed. Seven points would win it for Vermillion!
The Tanagers, on their first down play in O.T. from the 10, moved the ball eight yards in the arms of Tanner Mart, setting up second-and-goal at the 2.
Freidel got the Tanagers back into a tie, skipping and leaping off left tackle and into the end zone for a 13-13 score. Jordan Robinson completed the rather miraculous win with an extra-point kick that was true.
Vermillion had prevailed in one of the most scintillating wins in the long VHS-Canton rivalry that dates back to 1931 and which VHS now leads 41-17-1.
"Defensively we played pretty solid football throughout the contest, other than the breakdown in containment on their touchdown run in the second quarter," Coach Gary Culver observed. "They had only three other plays over 10 yards throughout the game."
Culver also credit his offensive line for playing well all night. "I was also especially pleased how well we rushed the football so effectively. Kylen Freidel seemed to get stronger with each carry in the game."
Freidel gained 148 yards in 17 carries. Bennett Johnson contributed 26 yards in six attempts. Peterson was Canton's top carrier with 67 yards in 17 carries. In total yardage the C-Hawks had 216 to Vermillion's 248.
Culver also described his specialty team play as very solid. "Obviously that was the deciding factor in the game," he said.
A big improvement over some earlier games was the trimming of the Tanagers' penalty total. They were flagged only three times for 25 yards. Besides that, they committed zero turnovers.
VHS had taken a 7-0 lead on its one successful possession in the first half, their touchdown coming on a two-yard plunge by Johnson.
Canton came up with a 65-yard drive that culminated in a 16-yard TD run by Peterson for a 7-7 tie.
The Tanagers threatened to take a halftime lead when Freidel scampered for 52 yards down to the 4-yard line with two seconds left, but a field-goal attempt was ruled not good although Tanager players on the field complained that Robinson had nailed it.
A holding penalty stymied the Tanagers in their first third-quarter opportunity. Canton returned the favor when a C-Hawk committed a personal foul away from the ball on a play which had gained his team 37 yards into VHS territory. The C-Hawks had to punt, and the Tanagers started to march from their own 17.
A 14-yard pass from Earl Kiertzner to Bennett Johnson got Vermillion to near midfield. As the clock moved into the fourth period, Freidel ran for 17 yards, and on the next play Johnson carried for 14. The drive stalled at the 16, and a fourth-down field-goal try was blocked into the end zone by Ethan Trube with 8:52 left.
Canton appeared to have been stopped without a first down when Nick Mart and Dexter Mehlhaf held the C-Hawk ball carrier short of first-down yardage on third down from the 24. Canton was prepared to punt on fourth-and-two, but the Tanager defense jumped offsides, giving Canton a first down, and the C-Hawks march was alive.
On the next 11 plays the C-Hawks gained positive yardage, moving relentlessly toward the goal line and the winning score. They had a first down at the 11 with 2:21 left. Two plays later, they reached the 1 with 1:00 left and awaited their first-down opportunity to get the victory that seemed to be in the bag, or at least just waiting to happen.
After taking last Friday off, the Tanagers are observing homecoming this week with a Friday night game against defending state champ Dell Rapids in the DakotaDome, beginning a second half that later will include Harrisburg, Madison and West Central.
VHS 7 0 0 0 7 — 14?
Canton 0 7 0 0 6 — 13
VHS: Bennett Johnson 3-yd. run (Jordan Robinson kick), 4:35.
CHS: Jeremiah Peterson 16-yd. run (Jared Twedt kick), 1:10.
CHS: Ben Sharon 5-yd. pass from Jake Roskam (kick blocked).
VHS: Kylen Freidel 2-yd. run (Robinson kick).
First downs 10 13
Rushes-yards 33-207 48-189
Passing yards 41 27
Total yards 248 216
Passes 3-6-0 4-8-0
Punts-avg. 4-31.8 5-39.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 3-25 5-36
Individual rushing: VHS, Freidel 17-148, Johnson 6-26, Tanner Mart 3-14, Robinson 4-14, Earl Kiertzner 3-5. Canton, Peterson 17-67, Seth Kroger 11-56, Ethan Trube 12-52, Twedt 4-14, Jake Kloster 1-3, Roskam 3-(-3).
Individual passing: VHS, Kiertzner, 3-6-41. Canton, Roskam 4-8-27.
Receiving: VHS, Johnson 1-17, Freidel 1-14, Ben Kozak 1-10. Canton, Sharon 2-17, Twedt 1-9, Tom Henke 1-1.
Individual defense: Tackles (solo-asst-total): VHS, Chris Mart 10-0-10, Nick Mart 6-2-8, Tyler Husby 5-1-6, Tanner Mart 5-1-6, Johnson 5-0-5, Freidel 2-2-4, Chase Allen 2-1-3, Will Mart 3-0-3, Dexter Mehlhaf 2-1-3, Robinson 2-0-2, Brian Hansen 2-0-2, Kozak 1-0-1, Carson Sullivan 1-0-1, Blaine Hubert 0-1-1, Clint Hubert 1-0-1.
Tackles for loss: Chris Mart 1, Tanner Mart 1.
Pass knockdowns: Freidel 1.