When you are the defending state champions, it doesn't matter how good or how bad your season has been, you are going to get everyone's best shot because they want to take down the best. In a 9 seed vs 1 seed playoff game, this wasn't your typical game, as the 9 seed was the Forreston Cardinals, the defending champs, playing host to the 1 seed and undefeated Annawan-Wethersfield Titans.
The game opened up with fireworks, as Forreston kicked off with an onside kick that they recovered when the Titan special teams were not expecting it. The excitement didn't last long, however, as Forreston drove to the Titan 21 yard line before being turned away on downs. After two running plays, the Titans would hit the air as quarterback Coltin Quagliano would connect with Isaac Shaw for a 73 yard touchdown reception. After the missed extra point, the Titans would lead 6-0 with 9:02 left in the 1st quarter.
After exchanging punts, the Titans were back on the move again. A 9 yard pass play from Quagliano to Shaw set up a 3rd and 1, and on the next play they would connect again down the right sideline for a 58 yard touchdown strike. The Titans would go up 12-0 to close out the 1st quarter.
The next series changed a lot, as Forreston running back Dom Christensen would fumble the ball away as the Titans recovered. The very next play, Titan running back Reece Gripp would fumble, as Bailey Cullor recovered for the Cardinals. Forreston would get into the red zone, but again were pushed away on downs by the Titan defense.
The Titans would take over on their own 15 yard line, and would move quickly. Quagliano would connect with Gripp for 24 yards, then Quagliano would connect with Julian Samuels for 40 yards as they entered Forreston territory. It would eventually set up a 13 yard touchdown pass from Quagliano to Brady Kelley and put the Titans up 18-0 with 6:44 left in the first half.
After giving up 18 unanswered points, the Cards would finally get the ball moving. Cullor would connect with Jakob Boomgarden for 22 yards, then he would connect with Christensen for 15 yards. They would go back to the ground with Ethan Mulder, Austin Mitchell, Christensen, and Jordan Neuschwander. Finally, with 49 seconds until half, Cullor connected with Boomgarden for an 8 yard touchdown pass. The two point try was good as Forreston closed the gap to 18-8 in favor of Annawan-Wethersfield entering the half.
The first half belonged to the Titans, but the third quarter would change the game. Forreston would receive the ball to start the 2nd half, and start from their own 35 yard line. A few minutes later and they were in the endzone, closing the score again as the Titans led 18-14 with 8:51 to go in the 3rd quarter.
The biggest stop for the Cards at this point in the game came on their next possession after Quagliano pooch punted the ball to the 1 yard line. The Cards would get 6 yards on 3 carries and punt, but the Cullor punt would only go 14 yards giving the Titans the ball at the Cardinal 20. Turning the Titans away was big here, and on the first play of their next possession, Austin Mitchell would run to his left, make a cut upfield between two blockers and race down the left sideline for a 78 yard touchdown run to put the Cards up 20-18 with 2:30 to go in the 3rd.
After giving up 20 unanswered points, the Titans would respond. Starting at midfield, the Titans would make their way to the Forreston 32 yard line. They would be facing a 4th and 9 as Quagliano dropped back to pass. Split out to the right was Isaac Shaw, as he slithered his way down field and behind the safety who was playing over top of the coverage. Quagliano was flushed from the pocket by the Cardinal pass rush running to his right, he pumped his arm once, but pulled it back down, hesitated, and then unleashed a rifle to the endzone that was thrown through 2 defenders and into Shaw's arms for the touchdown with 57 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. That score would put Annawan-Wethersfield back in the lead 24-20 to enter the 4th quarter.
The Cardinals would drive deep into Titan territory, getting to the 17 yard line. A run play with Mulder rushing off right tackle was cut off quick for a 3 yard loss, and as he was coming down the ball would get punched out as Reece Gripp would fall on it for the Titans at their own 20 yard line. On the ensuing play, Quagliano would option out to his right, and as Forreston closed in on him he threw a shuffle pass forward to his right that was intercepted by Cayden Shelton. Setting up at the Titan 13 yard line, and getting breath of fresh air again, the Cards would get a run from Mulder that moved them to the 6 yard line. Cullor would get a push for 5 yards to the 1, and then Cullor would go into the endzone on the next play. The two point conversion run by Cullor looked good from my view, looked good on the camera by the news crew, but the refs called him out of bounds. Forreston would reclaim the lead however, 26-24 with 5:32 to play in the game.
The Titans would waste no time moving the ball, as Quagliano connected with Kale Nelson for 27 yards. Once again, facing a 3rd and 14, Quagliano would connect with Nelson on a blown coverage for 42 yards as he put the Titans at the Cardinal 2 yard line. From there Gripp would clean it up with the 2 yard plunge to take the lead 30-26 with 3:20 left in the game.
The Cards would put one last drive together, as they drove deep into Titan territory. A Cullor pass would be intercepted by Brady Kelley at the Titan 14 yard line with 37 seconds to seal the victory for Annawan-Wethersfield.
On the game, Forreston would gain 394 yards on the day, as they rushed for 335 yards and threw for 59 yards. Austin Mitchell led the attack with 124 yards rushing on 14 attempts with 1 touchdown. Dom Christensen would rush the ball 16 times for 86 yards and have 29 yards receiving, while Bailey Cullor would rush for 33 yards and 2 touchdowns and throw for 59 yards on 4-6 passing with 1 touchdown. Jakob Boomgarden would haul in 2 passes for 30 yards and 1 touchdown.
The Titans would put up 470 yards of offense behind 410 yards passing and 60 yards rushing. Coltin Quagliano was 16-29 passing for 410 yards and 4 touchdowns and had 49 yards rushing. His leading receiver was Isaac Shaw, who had 7 receptions for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns. Julian Samuels would pull in 4 passes for 84 yards, while Kale Nelson caught those two critical passes on the last drive for 69 yards.
Forreston ends their season with an 8-3 record.
Annawan-Wethersfield moves to 11-0 and will play host to the Morrison Mustangs (11-0) in the quarterfinals.