FULLERTON — In a game that came down to chances and conversions, Dundy County-Stratton survived in the Class D-1 playoffs on Wednesday night.
The fifth-ranked Tigers (Omaha World-Herald) sniffed out a two-point conversion attempt with 5:42 left in the game and then stopped No. 8 Fullerton twice in the final 3:05 to hold on for a 20-18 win.
“We are an emotional team,” DCS coach Mike Spargo said after his team advanced to the quarterfinals for the second straight year. “Sometimes our body language gets a little rough when we don’t play well. But, we made some big plays in the second half.”
Fullerton had pulled within 20-18 with 5:42 left in the game and got the ball back twice.
The first time, after they forced a punt, the Warriors tried to hit a big pass but DCS safety Quade Myers picked off Fullerton’s Hunter Haughton. Then, they had a last gasp after stopping the Tigers on downs with 42 seconds left, but on fourth-and-1 — and with no timeouts left — the DCS defense sniffed out a quarterback sneak.
“I was so proud of our defense for giving us two opportunities late in the game,” Fullerton coach Ryan Haughton said. “That’s a heck of an offense that has put up a bunch of points this year. We hung in there and we just kept fighting.
“It’s too bad, because all year we have capitalized on turnovers and tonight we didn’t do that. You have to give them a bunch of credit.”
With the game tied at 6 at the half, DCS took control of the game in the third quarter.
The Tigers opened the half with a 67-yard drive that was capped when running back Serbando Diaz recovered a Corbin Horner fumble in the end zone. Earlier in the drive Diaz ripped off a pair of 23-yard runs.
Then, the Tigers blocked a Fullerton punt and overcame two holding penalties to build a 20-6 lead when Diaz went in from the 4 with 2:47 left in the quarter. Myers passed to Dominic Sis for the all important conversion that proved to be the difference.
Then, the Warriors fought back.
Hunter Haughton scored on a 1-yard run with 8:21 left in the game, three plays after he connected with Isaac Gleason on a 27-yard pass play on fourth-and-22 that kept the Warriors alive.
After the Fullerton defense forced a fumble that was recovered by C.J. Pickrel, Hunter Haughton scrambled in from the 5 on a draw play that got the Warriors within two. On their final conversion attempt the Warriors tried a trick play that was snuffed out by DCS lineman Lane Shillington.
“We tried a pitch going one way with the quarterback coming back to get it with an option to throw,” coach Haughton said. “It looked like it was there early, but they defended it well.”
Missed opportunities haunted Fullerton in the first half.
Leading 6-0 the Warriors had the ball in the red zone and Lincoln Waters intercepted Hunter Haughton at the goal line on a tipped pass. Then late in the second quarter the quarterback was stripped and fumbled, which led to an 8-play, 54-yard drive and Diaz’s first touchdown with 1;47 left in the first half.
“We had the ball a couple of times in the red zone with the lead and maybe could have been up 20-0,” Ryan Haughton said. “Then, you never know how they react to that when you get them down.”
Diaz ran for 147 yards on 28 carries to lead the Tigers, who will have a home game with ninth-ranked Arcadia/Loup City in the quarterfinals. The DCS defense limited Fullerton to just 193 yards of total offense for the game.
Ryan Haughton said he was proud of the Warrior effort all season after finishing 8-2 and having regular season wins over two quarterfinalists: Arcadia/Loup City and Osceola/High Plains. The Warriors were down to 14 players in the middle of the season and lost starters Isaak Norman and Chris Sensenig for the season in week four.
“To be able to survive when we were suiting up 14 kids, I am so proud of them,” Ryan Haughton said. “It’s special for guys to be able to step up and fill that void. When you lose all-district caliber players it really shows up on a night like tonight.”