CLIMAX – In one play, Noah Eshuis helped put a stop to 37-years of frustration for the Climax-Scotts football program.
With 1:08 remaining in regulation and the Panthers’ clinging to a two-point lead vs. Mendon, Eshuis intercepted a pass at the Climax-Scotts’ 35-yard line to seal an 8-6 victory over the Hornets in a Division 8 pre-district.
With the victory, No. 4-ranked Climax-Scotts (10-0) advances to next week’s district final where they will host Pittsford. The win also snapped a 30-game losing streak to Mendon (5-5), with the Panthers’ last win over the Hornets coming in 1977. The teams had also met in each of the last four postseasons, with Mendon ending Climax-Scotts’ season each time.
“I just saw the guy come out, saw the quarterback’s eyes went right to him,” Eshius said. “We haven’t beaten Mendon in 38 years, and it was just a big win for us.”
Eshuis’ interception came two plays after it looked like the victory was litterally pulled from the Panthers’ grasp. C-S defensive back Zach Harris came down with what looked like a huge interception at his own 43-yard line, but the ball was wrestled away by Mendon’s receiver – keeping the Hornets’ chances alive.
The Panthers’ Logan Hunter broke up the next pass attempt, setting Eshuis up for the game’s biggest play.
“Mendon is a great program and we’ve been chasing them and swinging away at that rock,” said C-S head coach Kevin Langs. “A lot of good kids on this field have played a lot of great games against Mendon and come up short. So that one was for every graduate from 1950-on.”
Climax-Scotts wasted little time taking the lead, with the Panthers’ marching 13 plays and 75 yards on their opening drive to score. Eshuis punched one in on a 1-yard run, and junior Zach Scholly scored on the two-point conversion on a pass from sophomore Dylan Butler in what would hold up to be the game-winning points.
Butler was playing quarterback after senior Todd Myers exited Climax-Scotts’ Week 9 victory over New Buffalo with an ankle injury.
“We had an all-conference tackle gone, all-conference guard gone, all-conference quarterback gone, and our honorable mention all-conference tight end went down,” Langs said. “So that’s pretty good, because our kids fought pretty hard and the kids stepped up and did a nice job. One of the goals was to get Toddy Myers another week see if we can get him healed and get him back.”
The contest looked like it had the makings of a shootout early, with Mendon scoring on its first posession. The Hornets went 70 yards in just nine plays, with Braxton Samson catching a 3-yard touchdown pass from Trey Cook. On the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, the Climax-Scotts defense stopped Cook a yard short of the goal line.
“Our defense has been tough for the year, and we’ve moved the ball a bit better,” Langs said. “But a two-point conversion was the difference in a game.”
Mendon advanced to the Climax-Scotts’ 15-yard line inside of 3:00 left in the first half. But a 35-yard field goal attempt went wide-left.
The Hornets attempted another field goal that would have given them the lead with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter, but the snapped sailed high over the holder’s head and an attempted pass fell incomplete.
Climax-Scotts ate up the clock for much of the fourth quarter, as Mendon only ran 13 plays in the final period – including a desperation heave that the Panthers’ Harris knocked out of the air for the game’s final play.
“It might be the toughest first-round match anybody had in their life to be a No. 1 seed in the region and to come up against a team the caliber of Mendon,” Langs said. “We knew they were the best team we were going to face all year up to this point.
“Back to Big Blue Stadium. Win this time of year and you’re down to the only 16 teams playing, it’s a nice thing to be.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at [email protected] or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley