Week 4 recap: CRISIS AVERTED
By BRANDON HURLEY
A season-defining drive saved Greene County.
The equally as spirited defense provided the necessary spark as well when the Rams stared utter disaster in the face only to counter with a devastating blow of their own.
Trailing for 42 minutes to a Class A squad well under .500 was not only unfortunate, but borderline embarrassing.
A comeback surely wouldn’t be easy, but for a Greene County ball club nearing the completion of one of the most disappointing losses in several years, the final drive was their chance to prove themselves, to silence the doubters, in turn kick-starting a joyous celebration.
The Rams finally found their mojo, aided by a stout defensive unit and perseverance, completing an 89-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes en route to a tense, 22-19 victory over Nodaway Valley.
The comeback victory, which saw the Rams (2-2) trail by double digits early, blossomed into a moment of growth, creating a group that’s not easily shaken.
“It says that we don’t give up,” Greene County head coach Caden Duncan said. “At halftime, we talked about how we had weathered the storm there in the first quarter and now it was time for us to take over.
Bad things are going to happen, but we have to move on and learn instead of dwelling on those things. I was proud of how we responded.”
The Wolverines (1-4) were the least bit rattled as they took the field Sept. 18 in Jefferson, galloping their way to a shocking 12-0 first quarter lead. The undersized school out of Greenfield had just three days to prepare for Greene County, as both teams scrambled to find replacements for their original week 4 foes. GCHS was set to take on fellow 2A, District 9 member Des Moines Christian before COVID-19 impacted the Lions, forcing them to withdraw. NV was in the same predicament, as Ogden was forced to call off their matchup after 50 high schoolers and middle school students went into quarantine.
By Tuesday afternoon, Greene County and Nodaway Valley, a pair of schools separated by two classes, began prepping for an unusual showdown. The Wolverines seemed to use the schedule re-shuffle as a motivation, forcing three Greene County turnovers in the first half. The Rams were sluggish, turning the ball over on back-to-back possessions, including a pick six, giving NV a nervous 12-0 lead.
Greene County somewhat recovered in the second quarter to pull within 19-14 at the break, but those pesky turnovers continued to plague the hometown Rams. Once Greene County scored their first TD of the night to pull within 12-7, Nodaway Valley responded with a forced fumble and a touchdown a few plays later. The Rams would follow that up with a touchdown on a fourth down conversion, bringing an exciting close to an up and down half.
As Duncan gathered his athletes in the locker room, he presented a proposition. If the defensive unit could start throwing its weight around, they’d have a solid shot at victory. And so, that’s what the Rams did. Greene County burst out of the locker room fully rejuvenated. The Rams held Nodaway Valley scoreless throughout the entire second half, pushing the offense to win the game.
“We were doing a much better at executing our assignments and doing our jobs,” Duncan said. “We got up on their receivers and were more aggressive overall.”
Greene County’s game-winning drive began at their own 11-yard line, still trailing by the same halftime score but with just a shade under seven minutes remaining. The drive - and game - seemed to stall at midfield before the Rams completed a miraculous fourth down play. That seemed to provide GCHS with all the necessary momentum they desired, as Jackson Morton would later punch home the go-ahead touchdown with 3:35 minutes remaining. The ensuing successful two-point conversion gave the Rams their first and final lead of the night.
“We established the running game so we were able to have balance throughout the second half,” Duncan said. “On the final drive we just had guys step up and make some big plays in key moments. The line improved throughout the game.”
Nodaway Valley’s last gasp efforts nearly saw the Wolverines pull off a miraculous comeback of their own before Morton sealed the win with an interception in the end zone. Just 44 seconds remained on the game clock, securing a win that looked rather unlikely a few hours before. The Rams and their fans could finally breathe. The upset bid was no more.
That game-winning fourth quarter was as pivotal as they come, a stretch Greene County may rally around as they enter the final three weeks of the regular season. A .500 record feels a whole lot better than 1-3 overall. The final drive was the end result of an offense slowly building to a crescendo. The lessons gained were nearly as important as the victory itself, Duncan said.
“It was a good game for us to learn from and hopefully it will give us a spark as we move forward toward the playoffs,” the coach said. “We might look back at this game and say that it was the turning point in our season.”
Greene County produced 235 yards of total offense, led by Nathan Black’s 90 rushing yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Bryce Stalder threw for 108 yards and a score on 11-of-21 passing, aided by Zach Goff’s five receptions for 45 yards.
The Rams held Nodaway Valley to 155 total yards despite the 19 points. The Wolverines mustered just 55 yards on the ground (a 2.1 yards per carry average). Greene County was led by Morton on the defensive side, who came away with an INT, 6.5 tackles and one sack. Bradyn Smith recored five total tackles, including a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Morton leads the team in tackles with 27 while Smith isn’t far behind with 25.5. Through four games, Stalder has thrown for 508 yards and five touchdowns in addition to a 47.4 percent completion percentage and three interceptions.
The Rams hit the road for the first time in four weeks Friday as they take on Red Oak (0-4) at 7 p.m.