Conditions were about as bad as they could possibly be for the annual Crawford County Shrine Game Friday night.
A steady rain all day soaked Ron Welsh Field, a small pond on Oblong's side of the field, while more rain fell throughout most of the contest in addition to the dropping temperature, making things sloppier as the night went on. Also, an hour-long delay for lightning during the third quarter made it a long, cold, damp night on the west side of the county.
Both teams had trouble hanging onto the football all night long, but when all was said and done, Oblong was able to battle through the elements and hold off county rival Palestine-Hutsonville for a 14-8 victory.
"I'll take a win any way I can get it, whether it's ugly or pretty," OHS head coach Travis Reider said. "That was just about as bad as the weather can be. It was treacherous out there, but the kids played hard and everybody played well. I'm sure Adam is proud of his kids and I'm very proud of my kids as well."
"I thought the kids played hard and they left it all out on the field," PHS-HHS head coach Adam Seaney said. "That's all you can really ask of them. We were able to make a couple of plays, but they were just able to make a couple more."
Scoring opportunities were few and far between Friday night and even some of the best chances to score were thwarted by the deteriorating field conditions.
"Coming into the game, I was a pretty happy man," Seaney said. "As we've continued to progress with our running game, I didn't mind the conditions. I also thought it would be to our advantage because we were playing a team that likes to throw the ball. But, the ball bounces several different ways during the course of a game and when you add the conditions, it makes it interesting."
"Any time we can take advantage of our speed, we want to do that," Reider said. "But, we really couldn't take advantage like we wanted to since the field was such a mess."
The game started slowly, with Palestine-Hutsonville gaining just two yards in three plays before punting. Oblong would lose a yard on its first play, but followed with one of the biggest plays of the game.
Anthony Johnson completed a pass over the middle to Gerald Richardson, who spun off a tackle and raced down the field for a 69-yard touchdown to put the Panthers up 7-0 at the 9:28 mark of the first quarter after Richardson added the extra point kick.
The two teams would combine for just five yards on the next two series and traded punts, then Oblong would get another break on Palestine-Hutsonville's next punt attempt.
A bad snap resulted in a 17-yard loss, giving Oblong the ball at the 15-yard line. However, a bad snap on first down started the drive, then Tucker Inboden fumbled after a nine-yard reception and Palestine-Hutsonville's Blake Newlin recovered it at the 10.
Unfortunately, the Pioneers would not be able to take advantage, but would have another chance. Oblong was forced to punt after getting the ball back, but a bad snap ended with an 18-yard loss and Palestine-Hutsonville would take over at the 26-yard line. The Pioneers would get the ball to the five-yard line, but turned it over on downs.
The Pioneers would get the ball back after Kyle Myers intercepted a pass by Johnson at the 37, but they could not convert it into points.
Palestine-Hutsonville's best drive occurred on their next possession. The Pioneers would start at their own 27 and move 54 yards in 13 plays - all of them runs - but they turned it over on downs after being stopped on fourth-and-two at the 19 and Oblong would take their 7-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Pioneers seemed to be grabbing the momentum at the start of third quarter, as they forced Oblong to punt deep in their own territory. However, just before the punt, lightning struck in the area, forcing officials to stop the game until the weather cleared.
After about an hour delay, Oblong punted, but they would quickly steal the momentum away from the Pioneers. Another bad snap on a punt attempt gave the Panthers the ball at the 29 after Inboden recovered the errant snap for the Panthers.
On the next play, Johnson lobbed a pass to Richardson, who caught it at the one-yard line. Johnson would sneak across the goal line on the next play and the Panthers doubled their lead to 14-0 with 6:48 left in the third quarter.
Just as everything appeared to be going Oblong's way, the conditions began to bite the Panthers. Oblong would fumble on their next two possessions and the Pioneers would finally cash in on the last one.
After taking over at the Oblong 24, Joe Eckert finished off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal to get the Pioneers on the scoreboard. Matt Schmidlin would then run in the two-point conversion to close the gap to 14-8 with 7:46 to play in the game.
At that point, the defenses would begin to take over. Six of the final seven possessions of the game would end with punts or turnovers on downs.
During that stretch, Palestine-Hutsonville appeared to be in position to put together a potential game-tying or possibly game-winning drive. Oblong was forced to punt from its own 18-yard line with about three and a half minutes left in the game. Chase Mendenhall's kick splashed down around midfield, but Eckert attempted to pick it up and run for the Pioneers. The ball bounced off his hands and Oblong's Kyler Fear recovered at the 39-yard line.
The Pioneer defense would hold, but they would not threaten to score again. Palestine-Hutsonville turned the ball over on downs with less than two minutes to go, but they would get the ball back with one last chance.
Oblong's fourth-down attempt failed at the 20 with 22.7 seconds remaining, giving the Pioneers the ball back. After an incomplete pass, two runs by Eckert moved the ball to the 32 with three seconds left, but false start penalty would move the ball back to the 27.
Eckert's hail mary pass on the final play was caught by Cade Fulling for 35 yards, but he was brought down at the 38-yard line and the Panthers held on for the win.
"Our defense has gotten better each week," Reider said. "They played really well tonight. Our linebackers were tremendous and James Rogers played well on the defensive line, too. The kids stepped up and made some really good plays when they needed to."
For the game, Palestine-Hutsonville actually outgained Oblong, had fewer turnovers and fewer fumbles overall, but Oblong still found a way to hold on for the win.
The Pioneers gained 153 yards of offense - 100 rushing and 53 passing.
Eckert led the way with a 4-7 effort passing for 53 yards and 26 rushes for 40 yards and a touchdown. Webster was the leading rusher with 42 yards on 15 carries, Myers picked up 32 yards in 12 attempts, Schmidlin added 13 yards receiving on three catches and 13 more yards on the ground and Fulling had one reception for 35 yards.
Oblong had 132 yards through the air, but finished with negative 12 yards on the ground for a total of 120.
Johnson completed 5-14 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for another score. Richardson had two catches for 97 yards, Collin Meese added one reception for 18 yards and Keaton Neeley led the Panthers with 22 yards rushing.
Despite the win, Oblong turned the ball over four times - including three fumbles - and had nine fumbles overall. Palestine-Hutsonville fumbles eight times in the game, but lost only two of them. Regardless, Reider was glad to have the Shrine Game trophy back in his team's possession.
"I am happy to have the trophy back in our case," Reider said. "Now the goal is to keep it here."
Oblong (4-3, 3-2 LIC Eastern) will play at Marshall Friday at 7 p.m., with a chance to lock up their first winning season since 1994 and become playoff eligible for the first time in school history.
"Just like we have all year, we are taking things one game at a time," Reider said. "I am worried about a solid Marshall team. If take care of the ball and limit our turnovers, I like our chances."
Meanwhile, Palestine-Hutsonville (2-5, 1-4 LIC Eastern) will play host to Lawrenceville Friday at 7 p.m. The Pioneers have been eliminated for playoff contention, but Seaney said his team still has a lot to play for.
"Pride is a lot to play for," Seaney said. "If we could win our last two and finish 4-5, that would be nice. We can also play spoiler for some teams looking for playoff bids as well. We will get back to work this week and try to have some fun. We want the seniors to enjoy their last two weeks of high-school football."
At Ron Welsh Field, Oblong
Palestine-Hutsonville 0 0 0 8 - 8
Oblong 7 0 7 0 - 14
OHS 1Q (9:28) Anthony Johnson 69 pass to Gerald Richardson (Richardson kick)
OHS 3Q (6:48) Johnson 1 run (Richardson kick)
PHHS 4Q (7:46) Joe Eckert 4 run (Matt Schmidlin run)
First Downs 10 7
Rushes-Yds 61-100 33-(-12)
Passes-Yds 4-7-53 5-14-132
Fumbles-Lost 8-2 9-3
Penalties-Yds 6-41 5-30
Rushing - (PHHS) Dylan Webster 15-42, Joe Eckert 26-40, Kyle Myers 12-32, Matt Schmidlin 6-13, Treyver Ferguson 2-(minus 27). (OHS) Keaton Neeley 18-22, Kurtis Fleek 1-1, Chase Mendenhall 3-(minus 16), Anthony Johnson 11-(minus 19).
Passing - (PHHS) Joe Eckert 4-7-53-0TD-0INT. (OHS) Anthony Johnson 5-14-132-1TD-1INT.