KEWANEE – The thing that TC Ottens wanted more than anything after Saturday’s 1A quarterfinal against Annawan-Wethersfield was one more chance.
The Mustangs had two chances at the end zone in the last 7.4 seconds, and both were passes toward the 6-foot-7 Ottens on fade routes. Both attempts were knocked away, the second slapped from Ottens' hands by the Titans’ Reece Gripp with time expired.
A catch would have pulled the Mustangs within a point and forced a decision on whether or not to go for the two-point conversion. Instead, the Titans advanced to next week’s semifinal round with a 20-13 win. Annawan-Wethersfield will host Lena-Winslow next Saturday.
“I wish we had another chance at the end there,” Ottens said. “We really gave everything that we had one more time. I just wish I had another chance.”
“I was just trying to not get any pass interference calls,” Gripp said. “That's what I was worried about. You just try to play the ball in the air and try to bat it down.”
Morrison (11-1) took over on downs at its own 35 with 1 minute, 58 seconds left after the defense made its second stop in its own territory of the second half.
A 20-yard pass to Hunter Newman pushed the ball into Titan territory at the 41, and Newman followed that with an 11-yard reception to the 30.
The Mustangs appeared to be set for a first-and-10 at the 20 after a catch by Ottens, but the play was called back on a holding penalty and that moved the ball back to the 48.
After a pair of negative plays moved the ball back to the 50, the Mustangs faced third-and-30 when quarterback Nate Helms handed the ball off to Keegan Anderson, who appeared to be taking the ball around the end. Instead he handed it backward to Newman going back in the opposite direction. He stopped in the middle of the field and heaved the ball down toward the goal line. Ottens won the jump-ball over two Titan defenders at 1-yard line.
“I was looking for the ball,” Ottens said, “and I told myself that I had to get that ball.”
“We worked on that play all year,” Morrison coach Ryan Oetting said. “It’s one of those that you hope you never use because you’re usually in a predicament. Hunter made a nice throw and TC made a great catch. We gave ourselves a chance, and that’s all you can really ask.”
Helms spiked the ball to kill the clock with 7.4 seconds left. The Mustangs were then flagged for delay of game on second down, and that moved the ball back to the 6-yard line and set up the two fade tries to Ottens.
“You've got to give Annawan-Wethersfield a lot of credit,” Oetting said. “We made a few mistakes, and they capitalized on it. In a quarterfinal game, that’s usually the difference.”
The two biggest mistakes were fumbles in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs had two of them and both of them were lost, killing potential game-tying drives.
In the second half, Annawan-Wethersfield quarterback Coltin Quagliano twice completed fourth-down passes for touchdowns.
The first – a 10-yard toss to Brady Kelley – put the Titans up 14-7 with 4:51 left in the third quarter. The second was an 18-yard strike to Julian Samuels with 3:48 left in the game. Quagliano finished 12-for-23 for 116 yards and three touchdowns, with three interceptions.
The Titans appeared to score the two-point conversion on a pass Kale Nelson after the second touchdown, but a penalty erased it. The next attempt at the points was intercepted by Morrison senior safety Nick Allen.
“We practiced all week on our pass defense because we knew the quarterback could sling it down the field,” Allen said. “He’s a great athlete. He came out and had a great game. We just tried to do our best to control him and help our offense out.”
Allen also had one of three Morrison first-half interceptions. He returned his 56 yards for a touchdown.
“It felt great,” Allen said. “It definitely helped with momentum. It was a big part of the game. It was so exciting.
Morrison answered the Titans' first second-half touchdown drive with its best offensive series of the game. The Mustangs, whose rushing game was held to a total of 15 yards on 19 carries, turned to the arm of Helms.
Helms completed 6 of 7 pass attempts on the drive, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Kennedy. The extra-point kick attempt was blocked, making it 14-13 Annawan-Wethersfield with 2:17 left in the third quarter. Helms finished 13-for-23 with one touchdown and one interception, and totaled 143 yards.
“I knew we could throw,” Oetting said. “We were never really in a situation where we needed to throw a lot. I think he threw for over 1,000 yards after today, and that’s only on maybe 95 attempts. That’s a heck of a year. He did a good job.”
2A playoffs, quafrterfinal
Annawan-Wethersfield 20, Morrison 13
Star of the game: Coltin Quagliano, Annawan-Wethersfield, 12-for-23, 116 yards, 3 touchdown passes
Key performers: Nick Allen, Morrison, 56-yard interception return for touchdown; Nate Helms, Morrison, 13-for-23, 143 yards, 1 touchdown pass; Reece Gripp, Annawan-Wethersfield, 26 carries, 138 yards.
Up next: 1A semifinal, Lena-Winslow (12-0) at Annawan-Wethersfield (12-0)