The Oberlin Phoenix had one last chance for a comeback Friday against Lutheran West.
After pouncing on a Longhorns fumble at the LW 19-yard line, they had unsuccessfully tried to pound the ball in on sweeps from running backs Revon Eissom and Devan Yarber. Oberlin faced a fourth down-and-five from the Longhorn six-yard line with 2:19 remaining in the game.
Failure would have meant the Longhorns, who ran the ball all night, would get the opportunity to run the clock out. They never got the chance.
Quarterback David Payne connected over the middle with tight end Journey Toole on a slant pattern for a six-yard touchdown. Kicker Nayib Besares missed the extra point, but the Phoenix defense held, giving Oberlin a 30-29 come-from-behind win.
Oberlin’s prospects looked bleak at halftime. The Phoenix (3-5) had lost four straight entering the game and trailed 23-12. Coach Garrett Mack credited the rally to his players believing in themselves and continuing to play hard.
“Anytime you’re down two scores it’s tough to come back,” he said. “It shows a lot about our program and where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
The game began promisingly for Oberlin. On their first possession, Payne threw a flare to Yarber, who used his blazing speed to run 89 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. Payne failed to connect with Toole on the two-point conversion but the Phoenix led 6-0 less than two minutes in.
However, the Longhorns answered with a 58-yard drive capped by running back Owen Albers running up the middle for a 12-yard TD. Kicker Eric Bender made the extra point and Lutheran led 7-6.
They added to the lead with an 80-yard drive climaxed by quarterback Rory Zakereckis throwing an 18-yard TD to receiver Shawn Naim in the left corner of the end zone. Bender missed the kick.
Oberlin closed the lead with a 47-yard drive ending with Yarber plowing up the middle for a one-yard touchdown. Payne’s two-point conversion pass to receiver Matt Stanfield was incomplete but Lutheran’s lead was cut to 13-12.
The Longhorns responded with a 62-yard scoring drive. Zakereckis hit receiver Brett Mather on a slant pattern for a 29-yard TD and Bender connected, bobbing LW up again by eight.
Oberlin then got sloppy. Snaps over the head of Payne have plagued the Phoenix all year and it happened again with Oberlin on its 25-yard line. Lutheran recovered, but Oberlin held, forcing Bender to kick a five-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in the half.
The second-half rally began with a 74-yard drive. Eissom scored on a 69-yard run up the left sideline in which he cut back at the 10-yard line and ran into the end zone. The two-point conversion failed, but Lutheran’s lead was cut to 23-18.
Lutheran’s final score come on a 71-yard drive in which Zakereckis’ night ended when he appeared to injure his left ankle while scrambling for a first down with 55 seconds left in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Brian DeAnte Furry bulled up the middle for a one-yard touchdown but Bender’s extra point try was blocked and the Longhorns led 29-18 close to the top of the fourth.
Oberlin, benefiting from good field position due to Yaber’s 25-yard kickoff return, followed with a 55-yard scoring drive. Eissom swept in from the left side for six yards and points. Payne then hit receiver Matt Stanfield on a left slant for the two-point conversion to trail by just five
Eissom, who had success throughout the game running sweeps, cutting back, and dragging tacklers for a few extra yards, credited his offensive line.
“They did a great job at blocking,” said Eissom, who rushed 18 times for 147 yards. “I love the offensive line.”
Injuries played a part in the loss for the (2-6) Longhorns. In addition to losing Zakereckis, Furry also went down with a left leg injury with 7:34 left in the fourth quarter, forcing Mather to substitute. Furry returned late in the game.
“That’s the way the ball bounces,” Lutheran coach Frank Petroff told his players after the game. “Hold your heads up.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Photos by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Tight end Journey Toole is congratulated by teammates after catching a game-winning, six-yard touchdown from quarterback David Payne in the fourth quarter.