Our Game of the Week took us to Forreston, and while we had it as the Game of the Week, others seemed to miss the boat on this one as a lot of people overlooked the rise of West Carroll. Some of that may have triggered from a week 3 loss to EPC 8-0. However, the Thunder have a lot of experience to go along with a lot of team speed, and one thing you do know you will see when you play West Carroll, hard hits.
This game had all the excitement packed into a full 47 minutes, before Forreston's Bailey Cullor just had to take two knees to run out the clock on a 38-36 thriller that went in Forreston's favor to clinch a playoff berth for a 10th consecutive year.
Forreston opened the game receiving the kickoff, and starting at their own 39 yard line they went to work in the same fashion we have come to appreciate of the Cardinal offense. The first carry of the game went to Dom Christensen for 2 yards, and 2 minutes later it was capped off with Austin Mitchell running in from 5 yards out. After the successful two point try, Forreston was up 8-0 with 9:34 to go in the first.
While that first score by Forreston didn't take long, and if you have watched Forreston over the past 5 years it wouldn't come as a big surprise. Not to be outdone, West Carroll would start their 1st drive from their own 19 yard line. Derek Tracy would keep the ball for a 7 yard gain off the right side of the line. The very next play went to Kody Sipe for 23 yards as the Thunder were in Cardinal territory on just two plays. Aiden Sullivan would then rip off a 33 yard run, and Tracy would finish it off with an 11 yard touchdown run with 7:14 remaining in the 1st quarter. After the two point try was good, this game was tied at 8 all.
Forreston's next drive was much longer, 4:14 to be exact, as they continued to pound the ball on dives, double dives, and counters. Adding the help of Cayden Shelton, Braden Politsch, Ashton Schramm and Jordan Neuschwander, the platoon of running backs kept the Cards rolling. With 2:59 to play in the 1st quarter, Neuschwander would punch it in from 19 yards out up the middle to give Forreston a 16-8 lead, after the two point try was good.
Answering the bell again was West Carroll. Another big run by Sipe put West Carroll back in Forreston territory. A big pass from Tracy to Michael Popkin along the left sideline moved the chains some more. A couple more run plays by Sullivan and Tracy set up another chance to score. This time the Cardinal defense wouldn't budge. Looking to blast the A gaps with Sipe, the defense stood strong and turned away the Thunder threat at the Forreston 2 yard line. The Cardinals turned that into a 98 yard drive that took all of 5:23 to complete, and would take a commanding 24-8 lead with 2:55 until the half.
The Forreston defense also tightened up the screws, only allowing 2 yards on a quick 3 and out to force the punt. Taking over at their own 35 yard line with 1:56 left in the half, you would expect some plays to run off the clock, try something a little different and maybe sneak in a score. However, this is where HC Matt Leitzen and staff played the clock perfectly. The Thunder still had all 3 timeouts, and after having the defense step up and make some stops, Leitzen was able to call 3 straight time outs to force a punt. A bad Forreston punt set the Thunder up at midfield with just 46 seconds left to halftime.
With a big throwing QB like Tracy, and with the receivers that West Carroll has, it was time to go air raid, and Tracy did just that. He connected with Sullivan for 7 yards, then hit Popkin for 6 more yards. He rushed the ball for 8 yards after being flushed out of the pocket. A false start call would push the Thunder back to the Forreston 12 yard line. With seconds left on the clock, Tracy took the snap, rolled right, and moving to his right in the back corner of the endzone was a wide open Jackson Miller that Tracy found for a 12 yard touchdown as time expired. The two point try failed, but the momentum gained from that score changed the storyline of the game from what it could have been, as Forreston led 24-14 at the half.
Opening up the second half, the Thunder would receive the ball and start at their own 47 yard line. Just two plays later, Tracy was running it in from 46 yards out, breaking off a run to the left side and turning on the boosters. With 10:29 to play, they cut the deficit to 24-20 in favor of Forreston.
On the ensuing Forreston drive, the Cards has just crossed midfield when they tried to go to the air and catch the Thunder by surprise. Bailey Cullor dropped back looking to his left for Jakob Boomgarden, and Michael Popkin jumped in underneath to get the interception. West Carroll would take over at their own 38 yard line. The Thunder found themselves at the 4 yard line, and Tracy punched it in from there. After the two point try was good, West Carroll took a 28-24 lead with 2:09 left in the 3rd quarter.
Just like a heavyweight fight, Forreston responded in the later rounds. Just 57 seconds after giving up the lead, Jordan Neuschwander put Forreston back in the lead with a 34 yard touchdown run that he broke off left end, getting a great seal block by Lukas Lingel downfield. This put Forreston back on top 32-28 with 1:05 left in the 3rd quarter.
Entering the 4th quarter, the Thunder would waste no time once again. Aiden Sullivan would bust off a 53 yard run off the left side, but was caught at the 2 yard line. Camren Simpson would finish the work with a 2 yard plunge up the middle, and the two point try was good, as West Carroll reclaimed the lead 36-32 with 10:16 to go.
Forreston would go right back to work from their own 45 yard line. Getting good runs from Schramm, Gabe Owens, Mitchell, Politsch, and Christensen, they would move down the field to a tune of 6 yards a carry. Politsch would get the ball from the 4 yard line and take over the goal line for the score. The two point try to the right pylon was no good, but Forreston reclaimed the lead 38-36 with 6:50 left in the game.
West Carroll would put up a valiant effort. Starting at their own 25 yard line, Sullivan would come through again, this time with a 40 yard scamper that put the Thunder deep into Cardinal territory. The Forreston D would tighten up, as three straight plays led to a 4th and 2 from the Forreston 14 yard line, but a Tracy dive up the middle was stuffed at the line. Forreston would take over on downs, run two plays that resulted in an 11 yard run by Politsch to get the first down, and Cullor took to victory formation for the Cards.
Forreston finished the night with 374 yards rushing. They were led by Jordan Neuschwander who had 115 yards on 9 carries with 2 touchdowns. Braden Politsch also had 2 touchdowns on the night, rushing for 82 yards on 14 attempts. Austin Mitchell would finish with 44 yards rushing and a score, while Dom Christensen had 53 yards rushing.
West Carroll had 422 yards of total offense, with 68 yards passing and 354 yards rushing. The Thunder were led by the dual threat, Derek Tracy. He was 7-11 passing for 68 yards and 1 touchdown, and rushed for 96 yards on 11 carries and 3 touchdowns. Aiden Sullivan would finish with 172 yards rushing on 18 carries, as Kody Sipe had 64 yards rushing, and Camren Simpson had 22 yards rushing with a score. Michael Popkin led the receiving corp with 34 yards, and Jackson Miller had 21 yards receiving with a score.
Next week, Forreston will stay home as they welcome the Lena-Winslow Panthers (6-0) in what many have dubbed the Game of the Year. West Carroll (4-2) will return home to take on Milledgeville (1-5) as they look to become playoff-eligible with win number 5.