|The Polars kept the pressure on Millers' QB Hughes all day long.
|But Hughes was often quick enough to get rid of the ball in time.
Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman
Although Morocco Ballard dressed last week after being injured early in the season, this was his first game back where he had significant playing time. Through most of the game Friday, the North High Polars and the Minneapolis Washburn Millers were evenly matched. Their defenses were evenly matched, and kept either offense from finding any sort of rhythm. The Polars struck first, but their lead was negated by an efficient offense and a fluke play on special teams in the third quarter.
North High's first score of the game was made harder than it needed to be when...
...they committed a false start penalty, had too many men on the field, and lost an additional ten yards on a holding call. In previous games, this was enough to kill any momentum that the Polars might have built. Today however, Trent Epps hit Michael Davies for a brilliant 60-yard touchdown pass to put North up 6-0 with time running down in the first half.
But Washburn answered immediately, putting together a drive in which they overcame a sack and converted on a fourth down. Hughes hit Cedric Chappell for a four-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at six at the end of the half.
The Polars did their best to imitate the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl gutsy play by opening the second half with an onsides kick. Washburn recovered, though, and had a short field to begin the quarter. In that drive, they ran the ball for several gains of over ten yards and marching down the field into scoring position. In a key sequence, quarterback Kyle Hughes was sacked for a loss of three on third and two yards to go, then ran for a first down on fourth and five. To add insult to injury, the Polars committed a personal foul at the end of the play, tacking on additional yardage and giving the Millers a first-and-goal from the four-yard line. Hughes connected with Chappell again for a short touchdown pass and the Millers went up 12-6.
The Polars defense doubled down, blocking a punt and forcing a fumble on the next two Washburn possessions, but the Millers held their own as well. They forced a Polars' fumble and kept North from converting in a fourth down situation.
When the Millers took possession, the Polars' defense appeared ready to continue their dominance. Hughes ran for no gain, and a false start penalty on third and seven made it highly likely that the Polars would regain possession ready to strike. Defensive Back David Hall laid a monster hit on Hughes' QB keeper attempt and Washburn was forced to punt.
The Millers tried their own special teams trickery, and whether intentional or not, it worked for them. In defense of the Polars and their failure to recognize the fake punt, explanations for football neophytes are in order. The fake punt pass seemed to be suspended in midair indefinitely. It was not thrown like an ordinary pass either. Picture a duck having an epileptic seizure in mid-flight just before a hunter shot it several times on its way to the ground, and you'll get an idea of how wobbly the pass was. This pass looked suspiciously like a muffed punt.
And when the receiving team touches a punt, it becomes a live ball and the kicking team can recover to take possession. So for the Polars' players who likely did not see the ball thrown and assumed it was a punt, the smartest thing they could do was to get as far away from it as possible. The Millers of course knew it was a pass play, caught the ball, and ran another thirty yards downfield. This was easily the strangest football play I have seen in a very long time.
#11 Hughes hit #7 Brandsted for a 20-yard touchdown pass to put the Millers up 20-6.
Trent Epps marched the Polars on an impressive touchdown drive, converting on third and ten, and fourth and five before connecting with Dominick Tucker for a 25-yard touchdown pass. On the ensuing possession, the Polars forced yet another fumble and recovered near the 30-yard line with four minutes left. Trailing 20-12, they needed a touchdown and 2-point conversion to tie the game.
Epps once again marched his team to the goal line, converting on a fourth and nine. But then, facing pressure on a broken play, he threw the ball into double coverage near the end zone. The Millers intercepted with 2:40 remaining and ran out the clock to earn a hard-fought 20-12 victory.