Controversial call ends season for varsity football in 28-25 loss to Mona Shores

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Junior Benny Scholler consoles senior Jonah Spates after the game is called.

It seemed all but over.

With 1:45 to go and the Rangers trailing 28-17, a good portion of the away crowd dispersed, assuming there was no hope left. After a quick drive led by senior quarterback Maguire Mahacek that was capped off by a rushing touchdown from the senior and an onside kick recovered by FHC, the Rangers were suddenly in prime position to either tie or win the game. With the ball positioned for a 27-yard line and nine ticks left on the scoreboard, Maguire threw up one last shot in hopes of finding the end zone before potentially settling for a field goal. 

Nine seconds is enough time for that, right?

You would think.

Maguire dropped back and hit the Sailor defense with a pump fake. Senior Jonah Spates—the Rangers’ primary target all year—faked the short route, beating the Mona Shores defensive back and headed toward the end zone. Spates caught the ball, knee hitting the ground at the 1-yard line, with four seconds to go. Clearly a first down, which, in the MHSAA, would stop the clock for enough time to let the ball be set.

But, the clock was never stopped; the game was signaled as over. As the Sailor sideline thought to have prematurely rushed the field, the officials came together to clear up the confusion. After talking for an extended period of time, it didn’t seem like anyone knew what was going on. Then, out of nowhere, the crew chief signaled the game as over. 

Just like that, it was over. 

Jonah comes down with the catch with his knee down, with the clock showing four seconds remaining on the clock.

“The clock should have stopped to spot the ball with at least two seconds on the clock,” head coach Tim Rogers said. “[The referees gave] no explanation; they just ran off the field.”

FHC players, coaches, parents, and fans alike seemed to all be dumbfounded by this final play.

“In high school football, any time a team gets a first down, the clock stops until the referees place the ball,” senior Carson Deines said. “There was just never an explanation given by the officials to us or Rogers.”  

In a game between two very talented teams, it was bound to go down to the wire. The Mona Shores Sailors took the crown in last year’s Division 2 State Championship, and they returned their All-State signal caller for his senior year. The Sailors came into this game 7-0 with a ferocious running game, so the FHC defense was going to have to be on its A-game in order to keep the game close.

Knowing Mona Shores uses a run-heavy offense, the Rangers were ready from the first possession. After two run plays on first and second down, sophomore Crandall Quinn batted down star quarterback Brady Rose’s pass on third and long for a three and out to start the day for the FHC defense. The Rangers had a plan, and it was well executed for most of the game.

Seniors George Cobb and Deacon Lobdell come up with the stop on the Sailors’ first possession.

“We were expecting a lot of runs and a combination of jet sweeps, triple options, veers, etc.,” junior Benny Scholler said. “We ran pretty much our normal defense but added some extra blitzes and some calls that helped out our run defense.”

Unfortunately for the Rangers, the FHC offense had the same fate as the Sailors did on their first drive. After junior Jacob Bonnett was stopped for a loss on 3rd and 2, junior Luke Gustafson was sent out onto the field to punt it away. With senior Jason Downey out with an injury, junior Parker Vredenburg was thrown in there to take the reins. The ball bounced in front of Luke, but the junior recovered the play exceptionally by picking it up and getting it off his foot very quickly. The punt took a phenomenal bounce inside the Sailors’ 20-yard line, traveling all the way to the Mona Shores 3-yard line.

Despite having much worse field position this time around, Mona Shores got on the board first on this drive. On most of the plays actually, the FHC defense held the Sailors to very minimal gains; runs were being stopped short, yards after catch were kept to a minimum, and the Sailors were being forced into a lot of third downs. Unfortunately for FHC, Brady Rose and the Sailor offense were very efficient on third downs, going 8/10 on these plays. 

After converting on third down, Rose faked the sweep to a receiver and found a hole through the middle of the line. His speed kept him out of reach from the FHC defense, and the Sailors went up 7-0 with 3:51 in the first thanks to his 57-yard touchdown run.

Mona Shores’ Brady Rose breaks free for a 57-yard touchdown run.

To answer, the Rangers got things moving much smoother on offense. On 3rd and 5, Jacob took the handoff from junior quarterback Hunter Robinson, giving the Rangers a first down at a key point in the game that could have given the Sailors a major swing in momentum early on. Following a costly penalty against the Sailors and a trio of short plays for the offense, Luke stepped up to nail a 46-yard field goal at a point where the Rangers really needed some points.

To start the second quarter, Mona Shores’ Elijah Farnum began to complement Rose’s rushing game with some stuff of his own. Rattling off a few first-down runs in a row, this set up Rose to get the Sailors on the FHC 2-yard line. A penalty was called when Rose found the end zone, pushing the Sailors outside of the 10-yard line. On 2nd and goal from the 10, Rose found the left side of the tackles to the 5-yard line where he was greeted by Jonah. Jonah wrapped him up, ripping the ball out of his arm in the process. Junior Tyler Weaver was there to recover the ball, giving the Rangers the football deep inside their own territory.

Jonah comes up with the football, stopping the Sailors just short of the end zone.

Backed up deep inside the FHC half, Hunter handed it off to Benny on 3rd and long for the first down. The Rangers just grinded down the field, yard-by-yard, until they found themselves with a first down on their own 32. Hunter faked the handoff to Jacob on the sweep, and with Benny running out of the slot to the sideline, found the junior over the top for a wide-open pass. Benny was eventually caught by the defensive back he beat, but it was still good enough for a 54-yard gain. Benny has been an impactful player for much of the season, but he truly was one of the best players on the field Friday night, catching six passes for 98 yards.

Benny taking off for his 54-yard reception.

“This is probably the deepest receiving corp I have had in my nine years. All of them can make plays and hurt a defense,” Rogers said. “Benny is not the biggest, fastest, or strongest of our receivers, but he is the most reliable. He catches everything that is thrown to him.”

From there, the FHC offense continued to move slowly, eventually scoring its first touchdown of the day thanks to a 1-yard run from Hunter. With 2:10 remaining in the half, the Rangers scored a much-needed touchdown and now led 10-7. 

The success of the FHC offense led to an energized Ranger defense. The Sailors had three timeouts for their last possession of the half, and they were already inside the FHC half with less than a minute to go. On a quarterback keeper on second down, senior Isaac Gurley hit Rose as he fumbled the ball, and a pack of Rangers was there to pick it up.

Both teams scramble for the ball after Isaac knocks the ball loose.

“Part of our success on defense was that our offense ran the ball so well, so they kept us off the field,” Rogers said. “We also work hard on creating turnovers, which helped us to a plus-two [in the turnover battle] on Friday.”

With all the momentum in the Rangers’ favor now, they just ran the clock out and went into the locker room with a 10-7 lead. The offense was finding ways to score, and the defense was managing to get stops; the game plan was being run to perfection.

“Our game plan going in was to contain the run and not let one guy beat us,” Carson said. “In the first half, we did a tremendous job doing that, but they did begin to roll in the second half.”

While Mona Shores did begin to have more success later on, the beginning of the second half was all FHC. Kickoff coverage has been a concern for Mona Shores all season, and it showed on the first play. Jacob took the kickoff from the 10, finding holes with ease and returning it all the way for an 84-yard touchdown. Just 12 seconds into the half, the Rangers now held a 17-7 lead. 

Jacob takes off for his kickoff return for a touchdown.

The Sailors calmly responded to this though, getting a lot of production from Rose to propel them down the field. From the 1-yard line, Rose ran it in himself, decreasing the deficit to 17-14 with 7:40 to play in the third. 

Bonnett took the kickoff once again for another big return, this time taking it to the FHC 43-yard line. On this possession, the Rangers too showed their ability to get things going on third downs. Converting two third downs on this possession, the FHC offense went 7/12 on third downs on the night. However, Carson was stopped on a rush later on at the Sailor 35-yard line. The Rangers opted to go for it on 4th and 8, and Hunter once again found Benny’s reliable hands for a key conversion. The offensive line did a tremendous job protecting Hunter on this play, giving the gunslinger plenty of time to find the junior’s hands on the crossing route.

FHC kept it going with a few runs down the middle, but after suffering their first penalty of the game, the Rangers were now backed up to the 21-yard line. On a read option, Hunter found a hole created by senior Alec Gast and junior Carter Kelly, taking the ball all the way down to the 2-yard line for a first and goal. Hunter was stopped on a few runs, and the Rangers were left with a 4th and goal from the 3-yard line. He gained a yard, but Hunter was ultimately stopped just short. After 16 plays and 7:31 taken off the clock, the possession ended with no points, but FHC still led 17-14.

Starting on the 2, Rose marched the Sailors down the field to gain the lead. Rattling off some lengthy runs on 14 plays, Rose found the end zone for his third touchdown of the day, this time from one yard out. With 5:02 to go, the Rangers now trailed 21-17.

On 4th and 4 inside the Mona Shores half, Benny came up huge yet again for the conversion. Like was previously mentioned, Benny’s role in the offense has only grown through the season, and he attributes this growth to all the extra work put in.

Benny comes up with a much-needed fourth down conversion.

“Throughout the whole summer and season, the quarterbacks and skill players would do a lot of extra throwings and workouts, and it has helped me a lot,” Benny said. “It felt great to have that game, but all in all, I just wanted to win, and I would’ve rather had the game go our way. 

On the Sailors’ 28-yard line, the Rangers faced a 4th and 1 with just over two minutes to play. Hunter hit the left side, and just when it seemed like he’d get the conversion, Mona’s swiss army knife in Brady Rose came up with the tackle and stop.

With timeouts in hand though, this game wasn’t over for FHC. The Sailors were left with 3rd and 10 in field goal range, but Sailor running back Elijah Johnson found green grass for a 30-yard score. With 1:45 to go, FHC now trailed 28-17, the game seemingly out of reach. 

Starting the drive on the FHC 33-yard line, Maguire took over under center for the injured Hunter. With the clock ticking down under a minute, Maguire found Jacob for an 18-yard gain to get the offense inside Shores’ half. The Rangers were having to go to the passing game, and Maguire was finding plenty of success through the air to drive the team down the field.

Maguire steps up to make one of his five completions on the night.

“With our running game having trouble and the clock running low, we had to move the ball through the air,” Carson said. “Being able to pick apart their secondary late in the game was exactly what we needed to have a chance at winning.”

On 2nd down from the 12-yard line, Maguire rolled out to his left, evaded some defenders, and scored with 23 seconds to play. On the two-point conversion, Maguire evaded the sack and floated a ball up to Jacob, who was wide open for the grab. 

Maguire dives for the end zone to bring the game within three points.

“It was just an adrenaline rush that kicked into me, and I knew I had to do whatever I could to give us an opportunity to win the game,” Maguire said. “I was ready for this moment and have been waiting for a time like this. I knew I was going to put everything on the line, and the other ten guys were going to as well.”

Now things got interesting. We had ourselves a three-point game. 

Needing an onside kick recovery, the FHC coaches got tricky. The Rangers acted like they were being slow getting set, and Luke quickly turned around and executed the kick to perfection. With loads of open space, the ball popped up beautifully to junior Quentin Rudolph, who picked it up and gave the Rangers a chance. This team just never quit.

Quentin comes up with the recovery on the onside kick.

“Everyone was trying to stay positive [when we went down], but the momentum quickly switched back into our hands, and we knew we had a chance,” Carson said.

A pair of incompletions left FHC at the 39 still, most likely out of Luke’s field goal range. Maguire hit Benny to get the Rangers to the 27, giving Luke a much better spot. Although, with nine seconds left, the coaches thought they had a chance at the end zone to give. Then, the aforementioned controversial ending occurred, crushing the hearts of the players, coaches, and community. No one wants their season to end like that. 

Senior Sam Tuori looks on in despair while the coaches rush for an explanation from the officials.

“That was the toughest loss in my coaching career,” Rogers said. “I am so proud of the character and the never quit attitude of this team. On Friday, we proved that we are one of the top programs in Division 2.”

With this loss in the District semifinals, the Rangers finish the season with a 6-2 record and a conference championship. The expectations for the program have been set in the past four years, and these seniors have been a massive part of a lot of that success. For guys like Carson, this program has meant the world to them.

“Every one of the seniors on this team has spent their whole life dedicated to the FHC football program. As a program and as a team, we gave it all we had playing until the final whistle,” Carson said. “There isn’t a team I’d rather spend countless hours with. I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to play football—especially for coach Rogers and his staff. They change lives, providing you lessons on and off the field.”

Juniors like Benny will look to finish what this team started next year, returning a lot of key talent for next year’s campaign. Benny noted the camaraderie on this team, and while it may not be the same, the Rangers will be back in 2021. 

“This team means so much to me. All the coaches and players… it’s like a family, and I’, really going to miss being with them every day,” Benny said. “The seniors were great teammates, and they made this year so fun for the juniors and sophomores on the team. They were leaders on and off the field, and their impact will be felt for years to come.”

 

Editor’s note: To the parents and anyone that reads my stories and The Central Trend, I thank you for your continuous support and readership. We are always grateful for the support we get, and the messages of encouragement I have received about my football stories are valued more than you know.

From the stat-takers to those who provide me quotes to coach Rogers interviewing with me postgame to Mrs. Sczpaneck for providing pictures, you all make my life much easier. Football is a tough beat to cover, and your help is immensely appreciated.

To the players and coaches – it has been an absolute pleasure covering you guys the past two years. I can’t imagine my time in the Sports Report without writing my stories on the weekends and interacting with you guys postgame and in the hallways. You guys continue to amaze me, proving doubters wrong week in and week out. I thank each and every one of you for providing memories that will last a lifetime. 

You guys should be proud of yourselves and hang your head high; that was a phenomenal game and season, and you deserved better than that ending.