BRYAN — The Bryan football team had a coming out party on a homecoming night that will live on in Golden Bear lore for years to come.
Already facing much skepticism of preseason expectations that predicted the downtrodden program's first league title since 1986, Bryan found itself at a crossroads. The Golden Bears were down 15 points to perennial power Patrick Henry with less than five minutes to go on a drearily rainy night.
But behind junior quarterback Austin Schimmoeller, Bryan pulled off an improbable comeback, which included two on-side kick recoveries, to slay the juggernaut Patriots 32-28.
Coach Kevin Kline, who is in his second year at Bryan and sixth overall as a head coach, said it was the biggest win of his career.
"I've never had a game that we won where I went home and wasn't able to sleep," Kline said. "I kept replaying the plays in my mind. I've done that after losses. It was just really good for the kids and the entire community.
"We had homecoming so a lot of the kids got to see each other at the dance afterward and it was a really exciting experience."
He said it may just be the biggest win in the program's history with its first win over Patrick Henry since 2000.
"Especially the way it was done and who it was against. It had been a whole long time since we had been close to PH and they've beaten us badly, last year included," Kline said. "The kids hung in there when people doubted them and counted them out."
With the dramatic victory, Bryan (7-0) moved alone atop the Northwest Ohio Athletic League standings at 5-0.
The Golden Bears also cracked into the top 10 of the Division III state poll. They had been among the teams receiving votes but are now ranked No. 8.
Schimmoeller threw two touchdowns during the rally and then sealed it with a 12-yard run with 1 minute, 4 seconds left.
"We started to doubt ourselves," Schimmoeller said. "And even I wasn't sure what would happen. But we made a stop on fourth down, and we started pushing the ball down the field, and we realized we could do it.
"We're so excited because we haven't beaten them in a while and not many people know about Bryan football. People think we're soft, but we came out strong and physical."
The Golden Bears are immediately presented with yet another chance to prove themselves Friday when they travel to Liberty Center. The defending league champion Tigers are 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the NWOAL, with the only loss coming against PH, which is ranked No. 7 in Division V.
Bryan went 8-2 last season with losses to the Patriots and Tigers and missed the playoffs.
"PH and LC have had the stranglehold on the league," Kline said. "Having lost to them makes them stand out, and we are excited to play them. Now it's a matter of refocusing. They are very good and they may be a bit overlooked."
Bryan, which is outscoring its opponents 316-88, now has believers and is the hunted. The Golden Bears are averaging 45.1 points per game while yielding only 12.6.
Schimmoeller (6-foot-2 and 175 pounds) has executed the wide-open, spread attack to near perfection.
Schimmoeller leads the league in rushing (1,099) and scoring (17 touchdowns). He is ranked second in passing with 1,481 yards (102 of 156 with 13 scores).
"He has that knack for making plays when there is nothing there," Kline said. "He had an 80-yard run against PH where it was a broken play. He does it every week."
Kline, who was an assistant at Bryan in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was the head coach at Edgerton and had a 21-20 record there before taking over at Bryan last season.
"I've had the privilege to coach some really good quarterbacks and Austin is the best I've coached," Kline said. "He is a tough kid and likeable. He will study film and ask good questions. In our spread system, Austin makes decisions. A lot of guys have latched on to his leadership."
Schimmoeller said he enjoys running the offense because it allows him to use his arm and legs.
"Our offense is fun because I have so many options," he said. "I'm surrounded by great athletes. My receivers have all made spectacular catches. The line has held up a lot."
Senior Elijah Bogosian leads the NWOAL with 37 catches for 506 yards.
"He's our most consistent receiver," Kline said. "He gets the attention of the DBs and the other guys can step up. Elijah can take little play and turn them into big plays."
Junior Daniel Pendergrast, the slot receiver, is second on the team with 19 catches for 252 yards and he has four TDs. "He's a scrappy kid," Kline said.
Senior running back Collin Bacon, a third-year starter, is second on the team in scoring (11 touchdowns) and rushing (259). Kline called Bacon, who is 6-2 and 209 pounds, a great athlete.
"When he gets the ball in his hands, he can make it happen," Kline said. "He's been dinged up with injuries, but now he's just getting back into it. He just loves to play."
Sophomore wideout Derek Knisely emerged in the Patrick Henry game. Knisely's 23-yard touchdown reception with 5:09 left made it 28-19. He has 15 catches for 257 yards.
Junior receiver Sean Culler (14 for 244) also has stepped up in recent weeks, while kicker Tory Savage (36 extra points) has been consistently solid.
Kline said he was happy his defense was "able to hang with" a Patriots offense that is averaging 37.7 points per game.
"We made stops when we had to and we minimized big plays," he said. "Defensively we are getting better."
Junior Jake Jones leads the way at his middle linebacker with 73 tackles.
But junior cornerback Brock Minor came up two of the biggest plays against PH, including a rare play call from a player. Minor's interception with 38 seconds left ended it.
"Our defense stepped up big in the fourth quarter," Schimmoeller said. "When Brock Minor came up with that huge interception, I said, ‘Wow we pulled it off.' And everyone was going crazy."
But just moments earlier, when Bryan was about to set up for its second on-side kick attempt, Minor approached his coaches. Minor, son of defensive coordinator John Minor, had formulated a plan with Jake Jones on the sideline.
"He basically drew up a play in the dirt," Kline said. "He said we should have one kicker fake it one way and he would kick it the other way. We lined up and it worked. I'm not going to lie, it was crazy. But sometimes you trust your players."
Schimmoeller said people keep approaching him and talking about the improbable comeback.
"They keep saying this is a game you'll never forget," he said. "And I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. It's the most unreal feeling I've ever had."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.