Trojans bow out of playoffs
FAIRMONT -- On the verge of pulling off an improbable upset Tuesday night, Worthington's football team came up short.
The Trojans capitalized just once on four red-zone opportunities and wasted a season-best performance from their defense in a 21-14 loss to Fairmont in the first round of the Section 2AAA playoffs.
"They played their best game of the year, by far, I thought," Worthington coach Dennis Hale said, referring to his defense. "They were very aggressive and made a lot of great plays.
"They certainly gave us a chance."
All year, and especially during its five-game losing streak to end the season, Worthington's defense was unable to keep up with its offense. While the offense put up points, the defense often allowed even more and failed to come up with crucial stops.
The roles were reversed Tuesday night.
Worthington's defense forced three turnovers, scored a touchdown, made a number of important stops and gave its offense a plethora of opportunities to put the eighth-seeded Trojans in prime position to execute a stunning upset of top-seeded Fairmont.
This time, however, the offense didn't do its part.
Worthington quarterback Kyle Vaske threw an interception on the fifth play of the game that Fairmont's Brennan Holm appeared to return more than 60 yards for a score. The touchdown was nullified on a Fairmont penalty, but the Cardinals scored six plays later on a 1-yard touchdown dive by Taylor Kotewa to take a 7-0 lead.
The Trojans punted on their next possession, and Fairmont answered with an 11-play drive that ended on a 3-yard touchdown run by Richie Haycraft that gave the Cardinals a 14-0 lead going into the second quarter.
On its next possession, Worthington failed to convert on a fourth-down play at Fairmont's 37-yard line. The Cardinals continued their march against the Trojan defense, recording two first downs, moving the ball to Worthington's 39-yard line and quieting the Trojan sideline.
Suddenly, everything changed.
Derek Busswitz intercepted a Justin Heinrich pass, cut across the middle of the field, eluded two defenders, raced down the left sideline and dived into the end zone.
On the two-point conversion attempt, Tony Thier took a handoff and raced to the right side. He stopped suddenly, turned and lobbed a pass across the field to a wide-open Vaske, cutting the Trojans' deficit to six points.
The back-to-back plays ignited Worthington's sideline and produced a dramatic momentum shift in the Trojans' favor.
"Things were looking pretty gloomy at 14-0 and nothing good seemed to be happening," Hale said. "And, suddenly, Busswitz picks that off and goes all the way. That really put us back in the game, and it was a tremendous spark for us."
Five plays later, Busswitz added more fuel to the fire.
Fairmont botched a handoff, and Busswitz pounced on the loose ball at midfield.
The Trojans took over at Fairmont's 48-yard line and followed with a 13-play drive that included a first-and-goal opportunity.
Vaske, however, threw back-to-back incompletions from Fairmont's 7-yard line, and the Trojans turned the ball over on downs and went into halftime trailing by six.
"We certainly had our chances in the second quarter, and we didn't get it in," Hale said. "That ended up coming back to haunt us."
Worthington's defense promptly forced a three-and-out on Fairmont's first possession of the second half, and a shanked punt gave the Trojans the ball at Fairmont's 41-yard line.
A 19-yard scamper for Jensen on third-and-1 moved the ball into the red zone, but the Trojans failed to score on three plays from inside Fairmont's 10-yard line, including a fourth-down drop by Mike Vorwald at the goal line that would have produced a Worthington first down.
The Trojan defense forced Fairmont to punt after just five plays, and, again, the Cardinals shanked the punt. The Trojans took over at Fairmont's 29-yard line and moved the ball to the 15 but failed on four plays to gain another yard.
Worthington's defense allowed two first downs on Fairmont's ensuing possession, but it again forced a punt.
Worthington, which started the drive with 11:07 remaining in the game, gained just three yards on three plays afterward and lined up for a punt.
It was a fake.
Punter Matt King pretended to chase after a bad snap, fooling Fairmont's defenders, while Jensen stood innocently with the ball hidden between his legs. He was brought down for a loss.
"I took a chance on the fake punt," Hale said. "My thinking was, 'We haven't scored offensively, and we need something to happen.' They didn't even know (Jensen) had the ball; they knocked him down by accident. The kid who knocked him down ran after the fake.
"Talk about bad breaks."
Fairmont took over at Worthington's 29-yard line, and, two plays later, Taylor Kotewa rushed for a 22-yard touchdown, giving the Cardinals a 21-8 lead and all of the game's momentum.
The Trojans answered quickly.
After a big kickoff return by Justin Larson moved the ball into Fairmont territory, Thier capped a six-play drive that lasted just 1:43 with a 5-yard scoring run. A dropped snap caused the extra-point attempt to fail, but the Trojans still were within a touchdown and needed a big play from its defense.
They got it.
Aduo Omot out-leaped his defender on a deep pass and came down with an interception, giving Worthington the ball at its own 6-yard line with 5:50 remaining.
Vaske hit Vorwald for a 7-yard completion, and Jensen rushed three yards for a first down. After Vaske connected with Vorwald on a 6-yard completion, he was sacked on back-to-back plays.
The Trojans punted, hoping their defense could get them one more stop.
They didn't get it.
Fairmont converted on both a third-and-3 and a third-and-8 in the final two minutes, and Heinrich twice took a knee on Worthington's 5-yard line to end the game.
Heinrich went 6-for-12 passing with two interceptions. His 79 passing yards matched his season-low.
Vaske went 10-for-22 passing for 55 yards and two interceptions, and Jensen rushed 21 times for 128 yards. Thier added eight carries for 30 yards and a score.
Vorwald had five receptions for 37 yards. Omot, who didn't have a rushing attempt, finished with two receptions for nine yards.
The Trojans finished with 212 yards. Fairmont, which entered the game having averaged 35 points per game, recorded 271 total yards.
"I'm really proud of them; I thought a lot of the guys played the best game they played all year," Hale said, referring to his team. "Things certainly didn't turn out the way we hoped and dreamed they'd turn out. We truly thought we could come over and win this game tonight and go on, but we just didn't get it done."
Worthington 0 8 0 6 -- 14
Fairmont 14 0 0 7 -- 21