Missed opportunities

The effort was there, the points were not.

The Pipestone Area (2-1) football team suffered its first loss of the 2023-24 campaign Friday night at Paulsen Field in Pipestone, as visiting Maple River scored 20 unanswered points over the final 17 minutes of the South Central District contest to claim a 20-0 shutout victory.

Although the Arrows failed to put points on the scoreboard for the first time since their 22-0 shoutout loss at the hands of the Luverne Cardinals, Oct. 9, 2020, during the shortened pandemic campaign, they had plenty of opportunities.

“Yeah, we didn’t execute in the red zone – obviously,” Pipestone Area head coach Scott Boomgaarden said. “We had two chances to score, for sure, and came up empty-handed. We had a couple big plays… a fake punt that hit a guy’s hands and had a trick play that hit a guy’s hands, probably for a touchdown; Landon Quist (16-of-41 for 121 yards) put balls where they needed to be, we just didn’t make enough plays. That’s a credit to their (Eagles) defense too, I think our guys heard footsteps; they (MR) hit hard and were flying around the field.”

Outside of the two red zone chances the Arrows mustered in the first half, the hitch and toss, double pass play from Quist to Austin Musch, who threw downfield, nearly put the Arrows on top midway through the second quarter. Unfortunately for the Arrows, junior receiver Trevor Clark-Chaulsett couldn’t quite haul in Musch’s cross-grain pass well behind the Eagles’ defense – juggling the ball two times before, ultimately, dropping it.

“We played hard; we just couldn’t finish in the red zone or connect with a big play,” said Musch, who led the Arrows in receiving with four receptions for 47 yards. “It just didn’t click in there; we couldn’t figure it out.

“I think scoring on one of those early opportunities would have shifted momentum and we might have been hungrier in the red zone after that. It didn’t happen and then we just couldn’t make a breakthrough.”
Breakthroughs weren’t forthcoming from either club in the first half, as the Arrows failed on two golden opportunities in the red zone, one in each quarter, and the Eagles struggled with position against a well-fortified Pipestone Area garrison that covered the field extremely well.

“First half, I made some horrible play calls and put our defense in some bad spots,” Maple River head coach Dusty Drager said. “We talk about just keep swinging, keep playing no matter where you’re at; the more offensive plays we make them play, the greater chance they’ll have of screwing it up. So, we were great inside the 10-yard line tonight.”
Coach Boomgaarden was equally complimentary on his defense, as the Arrows created three turnovers and limited the Eagles’ ability to get down field throughout – yielding a mere nine first downs in the contest.

“I thought we played them well, especially defensively; offensively, we failed to execute, but our effort was there,” Boomgaarden said. “If we clean some things up, I think we win this football game… I really do.

Pipestone Area junior linebacker Lucas Thooft (22) makes first contact as the Arrow defense drops Maple River’s Chad Schull for a loss in the third quarter of Friday night’s South Central District football game at Paulsen Field in Pipestone. K. Kyle

“I thought we got better this week, no doubt about it. Maple River is a really good football team; they’re well coached and I thought our guys prepared really, really well this week – especially on the defensive side. We defended their speed option… defended all their options well, so… we have to put a point on the board.”

The Arrows finished the game with 14 first downs, three of which came on their second drive of the game – a 16-play march that took the hosts from their own 19-yard line to within three yards of the goal line. Quist scattered his passes across the breadth of the gridiron, hitting Musch, Rysley Borman, Nehemiah Ostermeier and Cayden Zephier on short outs and crossing patterns. Quist’s 5-yard completion to the latter gave the Arrows a first down on the Eagles’ nine-yard line on the final play of the first quarter. And a second-quarter tally was not forthcoming.

Hayden Brooks was dropped for a three-yard loss on first down, Quist’s short pass to Ostermeier proved good for nine yards on second down, but the junior running back’s ensuing one-yard loss on a look up the middle put the Arrows in a fourth-down situation at the MR four-yard line. Quist’s pass to the end zone fell incomplete between Zephier and Borman, and the Arrows turned the ball over on downs.

Neither side gained much ground on trades of possession, although the Arrows’ double-pass from midfield with 4:57 remaining in the half nearly broke the deadlock.

The Arrows didn’t hang their heads following the would-be game-breaker, as the defense stepped up for its second turnover of the game – the first coming via a Clark-Chaulsett fumble recovery in the first quarter. On the second play of the ensuing possession Ostermeier intercepted MR senior quarterback Tyler Hollerich’s pass across the middle, intended for junior Wyatt Birr, and the Arrows took possession at the MR 47-yard line 4:02 prior to the interval.

The Arrows didn’t make much of their possession, but a third MR turnover that saw Nohel Vivanco pounce on a loose football at the PAS 37-yard line with 1:28 remaining gifted the Arrows another chance at putting points on the scoreboard.

A pair of reverse passes from Quist to Musch yielded 19 and 14 yards, respectively, to carry the Arrows into the red zone (5-yard line) once more. Quist’s ensuing pair of tosses proved fruitless, and his third-down scamper to the left side, 38 seconds prior to the horn, gained a mere yard. On fourth down from the MR four-yard line, Quist’s pass to Clark-Chaulsett, running a short button hook to the left side, sailed just out of the receiver’s reach – leaving the game scoreless at the break.

The Eagles would break the deadlock six-and-a-half minutes the third quarter, via the leg of German exchange student Julius Jeroncic.

On the opening drive of the second half, the Arrows – who finished a dismal 3-of-14 on third down – saw Vivanco’s hurried punt veer off to the left side for just a few yards. Despite getting into the red zone at the PAS nine-yard line, the Eagles had a high snap and a false start penalty push them back to the 27. No matter, as Jeroncic punched his second attempt at the posts through the uprights from 42-yard out – giving MR a slim 3-0 lead with 5:23 to play in the third.

With the Arrows sputtering offensively, the field-position game proved a mirror image of the first. Maple River used their momentum to lash forward at every opportunity. Despite solid engagement by senior Jackson Melcher and juniors Bentley Pater and Logen Punt, and sneaky and opportunistic rushes from linebackers Hudson Burnett, Lucas Thooft and Vivanco, the Eagles managed to spread the PAS defense out enough to complete a 45-yard march early in the fourth quarter.

An extremely close fourth-down conversion from the PAS 24 gave the Eagles a first down at the 17. A third-down keeper from the 13-yard line, by fill-in quarterback Zach Trio, also proved pivotal in the drive – setting Chad Schull up for a two-yard TD plunge with 10:10 to play. Jeroncic was true on the PAT and the Eagles claimed a 10-0 lead.
“We believe our starting quarterback broke his thumb midway through the third quarter, so again, Zach Trio, who has been around our program with his older siblings for a long time, stepped right in and did the job,” Drager said. “We’ll have to adjust a few things if he’s going to be the guy from here, but he did a great job tonight.”

So too did Braxton Simon, who in two plays helped the Eagles extend their advantage by three markers. The senior dropped Quist for an eight-yard sack on second down from the PAS 31, and on fourth down from the 23 blocked another hurried effort by Vivanco to give the Eagles a short field at the PAS six-yard line.

Despite a big stop for a loss by Burnett on second down, nothing could prevent Jeroncic from splitting the uprights from 23 yards out – lifting the visitors to a 13-0 lead with 8:12 to play.

The Arrows did well in moving the football in chunks to open the ensuing drive, but MR’s pass coverage tightened around the Arrows’ run-less attack. MR took back possession of the pigskin at its own 43 but did little against Arrows’ hard-rushing duo of Burnett and Vivanco.

The Arrows tried to go back to work after a short MR punt, but unfortunately for Quist and the Arrows, the junior field general’s second down attempt from the PAS 45 caromed off Zephier’s outstretched left arm and into the waiting arms of Jax Boening. Thesenor, who was responsible for stuffing Ostermeier in the red zone in the second quarter, raced 48 yards to the PAS two-yard line with 3:26 to play. Schull and Jeroncic did the rest, bashing in from two yards out and splitting the uprights on the PAT, respectively, to cap the Eagles’ 20-0 victory.

“It’s a huge win for us, a big confidence boost,” Drager said. “We’re inexperienced, after two state tournament runs; junior and senior-laden, but just limited in our experience – much like Pipestone. It was a fun game and a good battle all night.

“That field goal put some wind in our sails, even though it was from 42 yards. And I think he (Boomgaarden) might be kicking himself for not trying one (FG) earlier.”

Despite suffering the loss, Boomgaarden was happy with his side’s preparation for this week’s game – looking for a similar effort in getting ready for a road tilt with Redwood Valley Friday night in Redwood Falls.

“That’s always interesting; it’s our first loss of the season and you have to try to get the kids to bounce back,” he said. “Hopefully, they understand it’s not the end of the world; we lost a football game and have to continue to get better. We’ll watch film, look at our mistakes and move on to Redwood.”

Maple River 0 0 3 17 – 20
Pipestone Area 0 0 0 0 – 0