With line coach Matt Miller acting as the middleman, Cleveland 14, Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons 12 was based on a promise from the offensive line to head coach Erik Hermanson.
Wanting to balance the offense, the lineman vowed to Miller they would hold their blocks to establish the run. Miller promised Hermanson the same.
With the offense racking up 157 yards on the ground — far more than in any of their games this season — every Clipper point coming on a quarterback Alex McCabe keeper, and the Clippers effectively using the run to drain the clock when they needed to, Miller and his lineman delivered.
“Our effort level at the line made a huge difference,” said assistant coach Brady Hahn, “and we’re not a running team. Those boys did some pushing, and Matt was right.”
The Clipper defense was stellar too, holding the 0-5 Knights to zero in the first quarter of the homecoming game on Le Center’s field. After the opening kickoff, the Knights punted and then Cleveland punted. The Knights punted again but with a fumble on the return, they got the ball back on the Cleveland 26. With the next play a 19-yard throw, the Clippers had their back against the wall.
But the Clippers held the next play, a run, for no gain and then backed the Knights up 8 yards. With a completed pass it was 4th and 7, but the ensuing throw to the end zone fell to the grass, and the Clippers got the ball back on downs.
“Our defense really stepped up,” said senior Brock Olson. “Our goal was to shut them out, and obviously that didn’t happen, but we really encouraged each other to work every play and just get the tackles.”
But with the offense not sustaining a drive, the Clippers had to punt again, and on 3rd and 20, the Knights came up with a 63-yard catch and run for the score. Cameron Seely blocked the PAT punt though, limiting the damage to 6 points with 9 minutes until the intermission.
After the kickoff, Jerren Jobe leapt for a 14-yard catch that started a 69-yard scoring campaign. Levi Baker picked up 3 yards on the ground, and then on a Tommy Kennedy carry, the Knights got charged for a personal foul on the field and an unsportsmanlike on the sidelines, and the Clippers suddenly found themselves all the way down to the Knight 12.
McCabe, who was back after sitting out the second half last week with a hip injury, wove his way up the middle for the score, Jamal Zishka’s kick was wide right, but it was all even with 7 minutes left in the half.
Overcoming penalties, the Clippers scored again in their second possession of the second half. Baker spurted for a dozen yards, but on the next play the Clippers lost 10 for holding. After a false start, it was 2nd and 20, but McCabe connected with Jobe for a 19-yard catch and run.
Olson followed up with a 16-yard catch, wresting the ball with the receiver on his way to the turf. Keeping the drive going, McCabe scrambled for 15 yards.
“Last week Alex and Levi were out. Tonight, those two just gritted it out,” Hahn said. “Alex had good reads on that defender who was flying up. He would cut him inside, and he would keep calling him out on his game every time. The guy was running too far up field, Alex would take that hole, and it was off to the races. It was huge for us. Him being able to do that set up everything else for us.”
Four plays later, on 4th and 4, the Knights stopped McCabe, but an incidental facemask on the play put the Clippers at 4th and 1 from around the Knight 15. From there McCabe ran the rest of the way and reached across the goal line for the PAT too, putting the Clippers up 14-6 with a minute left in the third quarter.
The Clipper defense stopped the Knights once again, but after a three-and out, the punt rolled back into their territory for a net minus 3 yards. Capitalizing, the Knights came up with a 37-yard pass that took them to the Clipper 5. Two plays later, the halfback dove 4 yards for the TD, but Josh Dawald stopped the PAT run to preserve a 2-point Clipper advantage.
“We know we can win the game now,” said the 210-lb senior linebacker. “There were some mental mistakes we made in the other games, but in this game we proved we can fight through them. All we’ve got to do is fight the whole game.”
Draining the clock, the Clippers went to the run. They had to punt, but the defense forced the Knights to turn the ball over on downs. The Clippers needed just a half a yard for a first down that would have sealed the victory, but after a 4-yard loss, they had to punt with 1:15 left.
The Knights came up with a 29-yard pass, but the next four tosses fell incomplete giving the Clippers the ball with 40 ticks left on the clock.
“They stepped up,” Miller said about his lineman. “They’ve been working hard. With all the rain it was a tough week, but they went out and practiced in the cold and the rain. They are growing up now. It will be fun to keep having them.”
McCabe kept the ball 13 times for 72 yards. Tommy Kennedy had 10 carries for 42 yards. Baker, back after sitting out last week with an ankle injury, had five carries for 25 yards. Jobe took three handoffs for a total 18 yards.
The Clippers also passed for 99 yards. McCabe completed six of 12 attempts for 93 yards. On a halfback pass to McCabe, Carter Dylla connected for 6 yards.
Jobe caught four McCabe throws for 58 yards. Blake McVenes hauled in one pass for 19 yards. Olson fought a defender for a 16-yard catch.
Making up for the three games he missed with an injury, Eric Rohlfing had 10 tackles with six behind the line. Dawald had four tackles with two behind the line and one sack. Seely had nine tackles with five behind the line and two sacks. Olson and McCabe each had three tackles with one of them behind the line. Fischer Knish had two tackles with one behind the line.
Penalties plagued both teams, but the Knights’, although fewer, were more serious. They were flagged six times for 80 yards while Cleveland had 10 infractions for 65 yards.
While Luke Mueller is still on crutches, Tyce Shook had his arm in a sling and is not expected to be back in pads this season. Sophomore lineman Cade Kriha was sidelined with a knee injury but plans to be back next week. Late in the game, senior kick and punt returner Jamal Zishka was writhing in pain on the sideline. He ruptured his intestine, had surgery in Rochester, and his recovery is expected to take about 6 weeks.
The Clippers travel to 5-1 Mayer Lutheran next Friday. The Crusaders’ loss was to sixth-ranked USC.