By Will Johnson
EUSTACE – The Elkhart Elks came into Friday night’s game against the Eustace Bulldogs needing a win to keep pace in District 9A DI. Elkhart had lost back-back district games and were in danger of falling out of the race for the postseason.
Eustace was also trying to keep their flickering hopes alive and for a while, it looked like they just might. Fortunately for the Elks, a bobbled kickoff and a strong defensive stand late in the fourth quarter sealed the win for the Elks as they moved to 2-2 in district play and 4-3 overall.
The game started with both teams struggling to find their offensive rhythms. The Elks were able to tally the first points of the game – at the four minute mark of the first – when Jacob Walters nailed a 32 yard field goal to give Elkhart a 3-0 lead.
The Bulldogs came right back on the ensuing possession to take their only lead of the game. Eustace took possession deep in their own territory and put together a sustained drive that ended when Bulldog QB Alejandro Sanchez broke free for a 34 yard TD run. The PAT was good and as the first quarter came to an end, the Bulldogs led by a score of 7-3.
After exchanging punts to start the second quarter, the Elks recaptured the lead as the clock crept under the six minute mark. Elkhart’s D.J. Williams scored from six yards out and after Walters’ extra point, the Elks led 10-7.
It didn’t take long for Elkhart to pad their lead. As the Bulldogs attempted to answer the Elks score, Justin Wolford stepped in front of an ill-advised pass from Sanchez and returned it 55 yards for a score, with just over two minutes to play in the half. Walters’ PAT was good and brought the first half scoring to a close with the Elks ahead by a score of 17-7.
After the break, the Bulldogs came storming back. Eustace scored 10 unanswered points as the third quarter got underway. Elkhart QB Hunter Bush was picked off by the Bulldogs’ Cory Strawn who returned the ball into the Elkhart end of the field.
Three plays later, Eustace made the turnover pay off when Clifton Johnson broke free on a 27 yard scoring run defense and the Bulldogs were able to convert the turnover into points as Clifford Johnson broke free on a 27 yard scoring run. The extra point was good and with just over five minutes remaining in the third, the Bulldogs had cut the Elks’ lead to three.
Following the Eustace score, the Elkhart offense was unable to pick up a first down and was forced to punt. The momentum had changed over to the home side of the stadium at halftime and the Bulldogs fed off this momentum after the Elkhart three and out. Eustace mounted a drive that ended with a 30 yard field goal at the 3:26 mark of the third and just like that the game was tied at 17.
The Elks knew they were in a fight for their playoff lives and needed a spark. Fortunately for Elkhart, DJ Williams was there to provide it. With the score tied at 17, the Elks managed to drive close to the midfield stripe but seemed to struggle in picking up big chunks of yardage.
That all changed when Williams took a handoff from Bush, cut to his left, saw a seam in the Eustace defense and outran everyone for a 53 yard TD. Williams’ second TD of the game put the Elks ahead by a score of 24-17, after Walters’ XP conversion.
As the game moved into the fourth quarter, the Elks were able to maintain their seven point lead until the 7:30 minute mark. Eustace was not going to make this an easy win for Elkhart and tied the game up once again on a four yard run from Sanchez and the PAT.
When the Elks regained possession, they launched a time consuming drive which ended with a 37 yard field goal. Walters’ second FG of the game put Elkhart back on top as the clock was starting to become a factor.
Following the Walters’ FG, the Bulldogs bobbled the ensuing kickoff and very nearly turned the ball over. As it was, Eustace began their possession inside the 10 yard line. A penalty against the Bulldogs pushed them back even further.
Alex Thlang and Trent Huff made key stops on first and second down. A third down pass fell incomplete and set up a desperation fourth and long play from the Bulldogs’ own two yard line. The Sanchez pass fell incomplete and gave the Elks spectacular field position. Two plays later, Bush was able to plow his way into the end zone. Walters’ PAT put an exclamation point on the game and made the final score Elkhart 34 and Eustace 24.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.