Vermillion's last regular-season football game frequently provides a harsh reality check because the opponent is usually West Central, and West Central is usually unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 11A.
That was the case this year, too, when the Tanagers went to Hartford last Thursday. The Trojans prevailed, 22-0, to finish another unbeaten regular season, and Vermillion finished at 3-5.
It was a slow, steady, dominating performance that West Central laid on the Tanagers, and the game statistics reveal that fact, but it wasn't a case of Vermillion playing badly. "We just could not make enough big plays to swing the game, and we paid dearly for any errors we made, mental and physical," said Coach Gary Culver. "That is how West Central wins football games – by capitalizing on the other team's errors and converting them into scores."
The game was only 12-0 at halftime, but the stats sheets showed West Central had ground out 192 yards and 13 first downs by that time, compared to the Tanagers' 37 yards in 17 carries and three first downs.
By game's end West Central had 279 rushing yards to Vermillion's 68. The Tanagers gained another 54 through the air.
"I was extremely proud of the effort our kids gave in this loss to an outstanding team," Culver added. "We played with great enthusiasm and emotion throughout the entire game. Our defensive unit did a good job against their offense, but we were not able to move the ball on the ground, and we couldn't grind out enough first downs to gain an edge in field position."
The Tanagers were to open the playoffs at Dakota Valley Tuesday night, but the game was moved to the DakotaDome because of field conditions in North Sioux City. The winner will play the Harrisburg-Tea Area winner in the second round Monday.
Vermillion moved to one first down in its opening possession at West Central before punting. The Trojans went on a long, time-consuming drive, but Nick Mart's tackle forced a fumble, which Kylen Freidel recovered at the 5-yard line.
The Tanagers on their second possession faced a third-and-seven play, and an Earl Kiertzner pass to Freidel covered all but the last few inches. They took a chance on fourth down, and Kiertzner's keeper earned a new set of downs. Eventually Jordan Robinson had to punt VHS out of danger.
This time West Central moved from its own 48, earning three first downs en route to its first touchdown with 7:50 left in the half. The Trojans had to go 74 yards the next time they had the ball, but they did, picking up five first downs along the way, and scored with 1:12 left till halftime.
The stalwart Tanager defense stopped West Central to open the second half and forced the Trojans to punt. The offense reached into Trojan territory before having to punt.
The score remained 12-0 until a field goal with 10:41 left in the game. A Tanager fumble gave West Central the ball with only a 17-yard field to cover, and from there they got their third TD with 7:01 remaining.
Late in the game with the Tanagers' offense on the Trojan 25, West Central called a timeout to get its starters back into the game to preserve a shutout. Kiertzner converted a fourth-and-three situation with a five-yard pass, but another pass on first down from the 25 was intercepted to end the threat.
VHS 0 0 0 0 — 0
W.C. 0 12 0 10 — 22
WC: Pat Leary 1-yd. run (kick failed), 7:50.
WC: Leary 2-yd. run (run failed), 1:12.
WC: Mike Wenk 32-yd. field goal, 10:41.
WC: leary 5-yd. run (Wenk kick), 7:01.
First downs 8 19
Rushes-yds. 32-68 55-279
Passing yds. 54 5
Total yds. 122 284
Passes 5-13-1 1-4-0
Punts-avg. 5-30.6 3-32.7
Fumbles-lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-yds. 3-25 1-5
Rushing: VHS, Bennett Johnson 7-23, Jordan Robinson 8-20, Kylen Freidel 9-19, Earl Kiertzner 5-4, Ben Kozak, 1-2, Tyler Husby 2-0. WC, Zach Mettler, 13-92, Justin Bergeson 23-91, Seth Wolles 7-54, Leary 7-31, Casey Lowe 2-8, Andrew Idecker 1-2, Michael Becker 1-1, Dalton Kuehl 1-0.
Passing: VHS, Kiertzner 5-13-54-1. WC, Wolles 1-4-5-0.
Receiving: VHS, Johnson 3-23, Chris Mart 1-26, Freidel 1-5. WC, Aaron Johnson 1-8.