Demons meet their matchWinterset, blunders too much for Washington to overcome
WINTERSET — Washington met its match in Monday’s Class 3A second-round playoff game at Charles McGaffin Field.
Winterset was a team that mirrored what the Demons have done to be successful all season long. Despite not being large in stature, the Huskies ran the ball hard and played swarming defense. And they proved to be Washington’s undoing, defeating the Demons 27-21.
“It was definitely a team that reflected us,” Washington senior linebacker Mitchell Hora said of Winterset. “When we were watching film, the more we watched, the more they reminded us of us. Their physicality was like us. Their size was like us. The plays they ran were like ours. They were definitely just like us.”
Which is why it’s a surprise that the Demons, even though they’ve been underestimated by their opponents all season long, may have not respected the Huskies as they should have.
“I think some of our guys came into the game looking at them and they’re not very big, but they’re just like us. They’re rusty nails,” Washington junior fullback Alex Coker said.
When two evenly matched teams meet, the game often comes down to which team makes the fewer mistakes. And Washington made two costly blunders in the third quarter of Monday’s game.
Leading 14-7, Coker mishandled an option pitch, and Winterset defensive end Jake Baur recovered the football at the Washington 13-yard line. Four plays later, Winterset tailback Noah Kaldenberg ran for a 4-yard touchdown. Washington junior Tanner Knupp blocked the extra-point kick, and the Demons clung to a 14-13 lead.
“I was looking upfield to see if I could see a hole right before I caught the ball,” said Coker, who rushed for 47 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. “That’s my fault. I just didn’t reel it in.”
Winterset’s defense forced Washington to punt on its next possession, and senior Kyle Roder’s punt went off the side of his foot. The short punt landed near the Winterset sideline, and appeared to be downed by Knupp. But Winterset senior Lucas Nolan picked up the ball and sprinted 40 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. Quarterback Cory Briney ran for the two-point conversion.
“I just saw it was a short punt, so I ran up and got close to it,” Nolan said. “I saw someone touch it, and when they touch it it’s down, but you can still pick it up. Everyone just kind of backed away, so I just picked it up and ran and no one was there.”
In a span of less than three minutes, the Huskies had gone from trailing by seven to leading 21-14.
Washington went three-and-out on its next possession, and then the Huskies went on an 86-yard drive that took nearly the first half of the fourth quarter off the clock. Kaldenberg capped the drive when he broke through the line for a 25-yard touchdown run that put Winterset up 27-13 with 6:13 remaining.
It was Kaldenberg’s third touchdown of the game and 16th of the season, but probably the most important one he’d scored all year.
“It was my favorite one of the year, by far,” said Kaldenberg, who rushed for 132 yard on 32 carries, but was mainly bottled up by Washington’s defense before breaking free late in the game. “They shut me down pretty good for most of the game, but [coach Zach] Sweeney said before the game, ‘Just keep hitting it, trust your line, and you’ll break one.’ And, well, I did.”
Washington needed to respond with a quick score, but turned the ball over on downs when sophomore quarterback Daryn Sebelius was sacked on third down and threw incomplete on fourth down. Winterset took over with 4:44 remaining, and the game appeared all but over.
But Hora recovered a fumble with 2:29 left, giving the Demons a glimmer of a hope. Sebelius guided the Demons down the field, going 4-for-5 for 56 yards, and Coker capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. The score trimmed Winterset’s lead to 27-21 with 1:09 remaining.
Washington tried an onside kick, but Nolan recovered the ball for the Huskies. The Demons were unable to rip the ball from Kaldenberg’s hands in the closing seconds, and Winterset held on to win.
“We just needed another play at the end,” Hora said.
The Huskies (8-3) advance to the state quarterfinals for the second time in school history. They will travel to No. 3 Williamsburg on Friday.
“It’s been a while since we’ve made it this far,” Nolan said. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Winterset scored first in Monday’s contest when Kaldenberg capped an 85-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. But Coker stripped the ball from Winterset receiver Trae Gilliand in the second quarter and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. The score was 7-7 at halftime.
“I was told by Coach [James] Harris that they were weak carriers with the ball,” Coker said. “They liked to swing it around. I think it was Tanner who wrapped him up, and I just came in and stole the ball.”
Washington’s defense stopped Winterset on the Huskies’ first possession of the second half, and then Coker returned the punt 41 yards to the Winterset 19-yard line. Three plays later, Coker ran for an 8-yard touchdown that gave the Demons their first lead of the game. But the Huskies rallied.
“I thought when we gave up the big punt return and got down, we didn’t fold,” Sweeney said. “These guys have been that way all year, just resilient and making those plays when they needed to be made. I’m just very proud of our guys.”
The Demons were disappointed that they made mistakes that cost them the game.
“It’s heartbreaking, especially knowing the better team didn’t win,” Coker said.
At the beginning of the season, few would have believed Washington, a team that lost 11 athletic seniors from last year’s squad, would reach the second round of the playoffs.
“Who would have thought that we would be here?” Washington head coach Randy Schrader asked. “You can’t be satisfied, obviously, and you feel bad, but who would have thought we would be here?”
“There wasn’t a lot of hope for us this year,” Hora said. “Last year was kind of the year, you know? For us to perform the way we did this year was really great to be a part of.”
Hora and Washington’s other 11 seniors led the team to a surprising 7-4 season.
“They’re overachievers,” Schrader said of the seniors. “I mean, what, three quarters of them never played a down of varsity football last year. They came in and got on the field and ended up in the second round of the playoffs. So you take a look at where they were at to where they came, that’s a real tribute to them and their work ethic. The opportunities that they had, they took advantage of. They stepped up and tried to be great leaders. I can’t say enough about those guys because they’re just really good kids who are going to go far in life.”
But they would have liked to go just a little further in the Class 3A playoffs.
“We didn’t want it to end now,” Hora said. “We wanted the Dome so bad. Having the trophy now just stinks.”