BRYAN — Friday night's Northwest Ohio Athletic League clash between Bryan and Wauseon will be the talk of both towns for a long, long time.
Not only did the meeting between the two previously unbeatens live up to the pregame hype, it played out to be even more of a thriller than most could have imagined as Bryan rallied for a 28-27 victory.
Who would have thought defending NWOAL champion Bryan would jump out to an early 13-0 lead only to see upstart Wauseon go on a 27-0 spurt?
Furthermore, Golden Bears offensive lineman Jason Hug didn't figure to be the one scoring a touchdown to finish off the game's final scoring drive before a rain-soaked, yet, highly enthusiastic crowd. Nor did backup quarterback Sean Culler come to mind as the Golden Bears quarterback who would end up throwing the most significant pass of the game.
Yet, in the end, Hug and Culler made key plays down the stretch to help Bryan pull out the win.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more photos from this game
Hug's heroics came when he fell on top of a fumbled football by Bryan quarterback Austin Schimmoeller, who was stopped short of the goal line with 5.3 seconds remaining. The loose football bounced off a couple of tangled bodies on the fourth-down play before it rolled into the end zone, where Hug quickly pounced on it and curled around it until the referees signaled it was a touchdown.
The late score made it a 27-26 contest with Wauseon holding on to the slight lead. After a brief discussion on the Golden Bears sidelines, Bryan coach Kevin Kline decided to go for the extra point to tie the score instead of gambling for the win by going for two. They considered going for the win in part because they'd lost their starting center and were relying on a backup lineman to handle the snapping duties.
As it turned out, the Bears' worst nightmare occurred on the extra-point try when the attempted snap to the holder ended up rolling on the soggy grass all the way into Culler's hands before he scooped it up and scrambled away from pursuing defenders.
The 6-foot-3, 165-pound senior looked into the end zone and threw a dart to a wide-open Derek Knisely for the two-point conversion that led to an eruption of cheers in the stands on Bryan's side of the field.
"I was like, 'I hope he catches it,'" Culler said of his thoughts when he released the impromptu two-point conversion pass to Knisely, who had already caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Schimmoeller earlier in the fourth quarter.
The game-deciding extra points wouldn't have come about if not for Hug's quick reaction to the loose football that he recovered as the Indians defensive players were focused on making sure Schimmoeller didn't make it into the end zone.
"I was blocking, trying to get low, staying where I was supposed to be, driving them off the ball, and I saw the ball come out in the end zone and we've got to jump on the ball," Hug said. "I found it and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
What led to a thrilling finish were big plays by both teams.
The Bears (6-0, 4-0 NWOAL) put together the first two scoring drives of the game in the opening quarter. Schimmoeller connected with Brandon Poncsak on a 46-yard touchdown pass to make it 6-0.
Not long after that, Dan Pendergrast made it 13-0 when he scored on a 10-yard run.
Wauseon (5-1, 3-1 NWOAL) responded with two scores before halftime to take a 14-13 lead into the break. Axel Bueter capped the Indians' first scoring drive with a two-yard carry into the end zone. Wauseon quarterback Ty Suntken helped the Indians take the lead when he finished off their next scoring possession with a one-yard plunge into the end zone with one second remaining in the first half.
Wauseon continued to ride the momentum in the third quarter and increased its lead to 20-13 after Bueter hauled in a 53-yard touchdown reception from Suntken. That lead quickly increased to 27-13 when Suntken scored on a five-yard keeper shortly after the Indians recovered a Bryan fumble on the kickoff.
"I'm proud of our kids for not quitting and sticking with things, and they kept fighting," Bryan coach Kevin Kline said. "That's what we always tell them, to always try to get one more snap. That came down to the bitter end.
"There was a little bit of luck at the end. Sometimes you need that."
"It was a good football game," said Wauseon coach Travis Cooper. "If there was any question as to whether we belonged on this field, and all the talk about Bryan as so dominant, they're a good team and they have a good team, but I think we have a good team as well."