By Pedro Velazco
With 1:03 left on the clock at Lewis Cass’ football field Friday night, the tension was as high as it could be for the regular-season closer between the Kings and Western.
Cass led 21-20 and Western had the ball on the Cass 19-yard line on fourth down with five yards to go. Each team called a timeout. Each team needed to make a play to win the game. Western trotted out its field goal unit and lined up for a 36-yard attempt.
That’s when Cass’ Luke Knutson made a play.
The King senior lineman pushed his way forward on the snap and got a paw on the ball, blocking the kick. The Kings recovered and Knutson went wild, celebrating all the way to Cass’ sideline.
“I just came off the ball as hard as I could and just took a leap for glory, made contact with the ball,” Knutson said. “Our quarterback picked it up and ran it back and the game was over.”
The Class 2A No. 7 Kings took two knees after that to close out their 21-20 victory. Cass improved to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the Mid-Indiana Conference. Cass finished as league runner-up.
“It just really turned the game around,” Knutson said. “If they would have made that, we’d have to drive it back with under a minute. It would have been tough.”
Western fell to 4-5 overall, 4-3 in the MIC. When the ball came off Western kicker Zac Simpson’s foot, Panther coach Nate Andrews felt confident.
“We feel comfortable with him. He can kick the ball,” Andrews said of Simpson. “He had plenty of leg there. It’s a matter of whether we can get a good snap, hold, kick and then hold up and block [the defense]. We felt pretty confident in it. Credit to [the Kings]. I don’t know how or what, but I’m sure they made a great effort.”
On the other side of the field, Cass coach Scott Mannering was sweating out the result.
“We’d seen them kick a field goal from over 30 yards before and make it,” Mannering said. “That was well within their range.
“Luke just found a gap up the middle there and got his big hand up and had to have just the perfect block. It looked to me like [Simpson] hit the ball very good. It came off the tee good and who knows what would have happened. It was fortunate for us to win the game. Western really played hard.”
The block sealed the deal on a tight game that Cass won in the second half. Western went up 13-0 with touchdowns on its first two possessions. Fueled by a 44-yard pass from Drew Bellus to Kendal McDonald, Western scored on the game’s opening possesson when Hudson Featherstone punched in from two yards out. The Panthers then forced a fumble on Cass’ first possession and drove 44 yards on 10 plays before James Davis scored from two yards out.
Cass got on the board with a 10-play drive that saw quarterback Sheldon Slusser score on a two-yard keeper. That score held until halftime. The Kings took the lead in the third quarter just five plays after the break when Drew Shepherd scampered 11 yards for a 14-13 lead.
Western responded on its next possession when McDonald caught a two-yard pass on the right after a nice fake handoff by Bellus. Those two connected on a 28-yard play earlier in the possession to set up the score and Western led 20-14 after three quarters.
Cass took the final lead with 5:09 left in the game when Slusser rolled out left and then turned upfield for a one-yard TD run. Western marched 69 yards after that, only to be stopped by Knutson’s block with a minute left.
“They had us off-balance with their play selection,” Andrews said. “Everybody knows they’re very well coached and do things the right way, and they moved the ball and punched it in when they needed to.”
Cass used seven ball carriers to rack up 201 yards. Shepherd ran for 71 and Slusser for 52. In addition, Slusser hit on 4 of 5 pass attempts for 75 yards.
Western got 81 yards on the ground from Davis and 70 from Featherstone. Bellus hit on 4 of 5 passes for 89 yards. McDonald had three catches for 74 yards.
“Defensively I thought we really played a pretty good football game,” Mannering said. “You take away a couple big [pass] plays and I was real pleased. I was real pleased with the way we handled their running game. We needed our offense to come through and they did, just barely.”