Bulldogs score 21 unanswered 2nd-half points to stun Seneca East

PHOTO BY STEVE WILLIAMS Seneca East’s Skyler Walker runs the ball during a Division VI postseason game at Marion Friday.

MARION — There is about a nine-minute span that will haunt the Seneca East football program for a long time.

Things were looking great for Seneca East in Friday night’s Division VI regional semifinal against unbeaten East Knox at Marion Harding.

The Tigers scored on their first possession of the second half to go up 20-0 on the Bulldogs with 6:56 left in the third quarter.

A lot of things happened in the next nine minutes of the contest. None of it good for Seneca East.

In a do-or-die possession, East Knox pulled together a drive for a score on a 5-yard run from Caleb Gallwitz. Just seven seconds later, Seneca East lost its fourth fumble of the game, and after a personal foul penalty, East Knox was down to Seneca East’s 16.

Following a pair of Gallwitz runs, quarterback Kadden Lester fired an 11-yard slant pass to Braden Kannady to pull the Bulldogs within 20-14.

Seneca East tried to rally and stifle the Bulldogs’ momentum, but it couldn’t get started again.

After a turnover on downs, East Knox scored on its third straight possession to take a 21-20 lead with 9:14 remaining in the game. Gallwitz scored on a 2-yard run.

Down a pair of key starters, Seneca East tried to mount a signature drive to send itself to the regional final.

After reaching East Knox’s 31, a penalty set back the Tigers 10 yards and they couldn’t recover in a 21-20 heartbreaking loss.

“We gave them too many extra possessions and they got a little momentum off of that. We had our opportunities and didn’t finish them off,” SE coach Ed Phillips said. “When they got their shot, they got it.

“It was a game of momentum, that’s for sure. For about a six-minute span there … we went up 20-0 and the next six minutes we either had a guy on the ground or we had a ball on the ground. They capitalized on it and hats off to them. This one will hurt for a long time. I’m so proud of our kids … we just weren’t ready to be done.”

Up until that pivotal scoring drive, East Knox (12-0) couldn’t do anything offensively. The Tigers defense played outstanding again, overcoming three first-half fumbles to shut out the Bulldogs in the first half. But they got the momentum in a big way and made plays when they had to.

“We came out and went down and scored, got a turnover, scored again and got momentum and the boys just fought their hearts out and kept playing. I also was saying a lot of prayers along the way too,” East Knox coach Cody Reese said with a smile. “The second half we just had a different mentality. They said to themselves that we better go now. The first half (Seneca East) brought it to us and we looked a little shellshocked, I’ll be honest. Second half, once we got that first drive, we got some confidence, which got us going there in the end.”

Seneca East (10-2) was able to move the ball all game. It moved it into Bulldog territory on its opening drive, but a fumble stopped the drive.

On the next possession, Skyler Walker capped a 13-play drive with a 2-yard plunge, but the Tigers mishandled the snap on the extra point, so the score remained 6-0.

Then Seneca East fumbled again in East Knox territory, but the defense stiffened up to force a punt. Walker bulldozed his way into the end zone on the next Tigers drive to give SE a 12-0 advantage late in the first half as the two-point conversion failed.

Hunter Martin picked off a Lester pass on a screen play to stop an East Knox drive before the half ended. With 1:26 left, SE had a chance to widen the lead more, but its third fumble of the first half ended any hopes for it.

“Can’t play in Week 12 and give them the ball extra times and that happens. That’s life,” Phillips said. “… I just love this group of kids so much and I know I said it already, but we weren’t ready to be done playing football, but we are and that’s life. They will face tougher things in life and I hope this experience helps them handle it.

“We’ve had about 18 minutes of bad football this year and it came at a really bad time.”

Kane Lynch, who exited the game with an injury late in the third period, gave the Tigers an 18-0 lead to begin the second half on a 4-yard run. Quarterback Chase Foos found Blane Cottingham in the end zone for the two-point conversion.

Overall, Gallwitz ended with 142 yards rushing on 26 carries, while Lester threw for 131 yards. Kannady had four grabs for 59 yards.

Walker led the Tigers with 127 yards rushing on 24 attempts. Foos passed for 113 yards and ran for 20 more, while Lynch caught a pair of balls for 69 yards. Jake Siesel also had 53 yards receiving on seven catches.

The Tigers — who made the state semifinal last season — finished another year in the playoffs. However, it seemed poised for more.

“A great four years for (the seniors) with 39 wins in four years and four playoff wins. I’m so proud of them and I’ll miss them so much,” Phillips said. “This community is outstanding. Yeah, … a lot to be proud of. It’ll feel good sometime, right now it just feels numb.”