FOWLER — There was nothing better to do in Fowler on Friday night. Not because of the modest size of the town, but rather because of the thriller that was taking place on Vibber Field.
Two of the state's best 8-man football teams battled it out in what ended up being arguably the most intense football game of the night, regardless of classification, regardless of city or town.
No. 5 ranked Hoehne came away with a 34-28 win, but from the opening seconds, it looked like it wasn't going to be the Farmer's night. The opening kick-off was fumbled. Dylan Polomino scooped it up and ran it in for a touchdown.
The No. 7-ranked Grizzlies (5-1 overall, 1-1 Southern) were on the board first.
But they couldn't quite grasp the momentum and the Farmers never lost focus.
"We've been down before," Hoehne coach Gabe Dasko said. "We were down to Dayspring. The kids had to battle back."
It was a challenge that they willingly accepted. Jacob Yates got the ball rolling with a 21-yard touchdown run that put the Farmers up 8-6. They had a chance to build on the lead, but Yates' pass on the last play of the second half was picked off by Quinton Flanscha.
In the second half, it was the Grizzlies who came out looking like the more polished team. They converted their first two drives in touchdowns, one from Luke Bitter and the other from Flanscha. Things were looking good for Fowler, who was sitting on a 20-8 lead.
"It takes a little bit for our kids just to start to believe," Fowler coach Mark Van Sickle said. "We're a second half football team."
In all, the Grizzlies stopped the Farmers on downs five times through the course of the game. Yates, however, added long touchdown runs of 65 and 46 yards to tie the game.
Flanscha retook the lead for Fowler with a 20-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion put Fowler back on top by eight points.
But there was plenty of time left. The Farmers drove into Fowler territory, but faced a 4th and long situation after a hold penalty. But no matter, Yates threw a strike to Trystan Moltrer to keep the drive alive.
And naturally, since Yates had broken off for long touchdown runs all night, he tied the game on a pass. He found Riley Hudson over the middle and after the successful conversion, it was off to overtime.
"It just happened," an emotional Yates said. "I'm sorry, we're just kind of scatterbrained."
Fowler got the ball to start overtime and couldn't convert. Yates provided the key tackle for the Farmers as he stuck Bitter at the five-yard-line.
And then it only took two plays. Yates ran the ball in from the five and the Farmers sideline exploded into cheers. It's a feeling that the players and fans are used to. The Farmers haven't lost to the Grizzlies since 2006.
"The only thing going through my head was if we were the first team in 11 years to lost to Fowler, I'd be very disappointed," Hudson said.
No worry on that side.
Van Sickle noted that the game played out exactly how he thought it would. He has a good football team and he hopes that this loss can push the players to new heights.
"This is the kind of loss that you can grow from," he said. "That's what we talked about after the game."