On the edge of their seat

By: 
Sonja Karp

Photos by Alexis Barker/NLJ

Head coach Matt Conzelman was just a little excited as his team scored on the Wheatland Bulldogs last Friday. He had much to be proud of, despite the Dogies’ loss at the end of the night.

 

Sonja Karp

NLJ Sports Editor

 

There was a lot riding on Friday’s contest against Wheatland, and as the Bulldogs kicked off to the Dogies at Schoonmaker Field, Newcastle fans would see very quickly that their team was ready to fight to earn a place in the 2A Playoffs. Despite leading for most of the contest, the Dogies ran out of time at the end, and watched their season come to an end with a mere 2-point, 38-40 loss.

Head coach Matt Conzelman’s crew needed the win over the Bulldogs in order to make the playoffs, and things were looking good as they marched the ball 56 yards down the field in three plays to punch in the first of many goals on the night with a 3-yard touchdown scamper by Holden McConkey. Dylan McFarlin followed that up by sending the PAT through the uprights to give his team a 7-0 lead with only 45 seconds ticked off the clock.

“We knew going into this one that we wanted a fast start,” Conzelman nodded. “It’s funny how things work out, because we have chosen the ball all season and haven’t been able to put together a full drive on our first possession, so this time we wanted to kick off.
They won the toss, however, and deferred to us so we ended up receiving anyway, and it ended up being a perfect start.”

With 3:51 remaining in the first quarter, Wheatland was able to punch one in on
fourth and four, then converted on their 2-point attempt to take the 8-7 lead heading into the second. 

With just 47 seconds off the clock in the second quarter, the Dogies took over with great field position, and that offensive drive culminated with a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Slade Roberson. He then threw to Aidan Chick for the 2-point conversion, which gave the Dogies the 15-8 lead over the Bulldogs at the 7:26 mark.

The speed of Rodee Brow of Wheatland showed itself seconds later as the junior caught the kickoff by McFarlin and ran it back 70 yards for a touchdown. The Dogies denied the PAT, however, so held onto a slim 1-point lead. 

The offensive show continued for both squads. With 4:55 to play in the first half, Roberson connected with Tanner Neilsen on a 43-yard touchdown pass, then McFarlin was good again with the PAT so the Dogies went up 22-14. 

Wheatland answered back 47 seconds later with another TD for Brow, this time on a long pass play, and this time the 2-point conversion was good so the score was knotted up at 22.

The Dogies weren’t finished. This time it would be Chick who would get in the end zone by catching a 27-yard pass from Roberson with 1:53 to play. The Dogies 2-point conversion attempt was no good this time so Newcastle took the 28-22 lead. 

With little time remaining, the Bulldogs marched the ball down the field and it was only a big defensive play by Neilsen, blocking the touchdown pass in the final seconds of the quarter, which allowed the Dogies to take the lead into the halftime break. 

“It was a game of big plays by both teams, and each was just trying to figure out a way to slow the other down a little bit,” Conzelman admitted. They had some really good athletes, and Brow is super fast and is just a junior so he’ll be back.”

About halfway through the third quarter, Wheatland went back to Brow with a 63-yard pass the junior caught to tie the game. Dogie defense thwarted the 2-point conversion attempt to keep the score even at 28s to end the third.

With only four seconds ticked off the clock in the fourth quarter, Roberson connected with Hogan Tystad for yet another Dogie touchdown, and McFarlin put his third PAT through the uprights giving Newcastle back the lead with a score of 35-28.

On their next possession, the Dogies failed to connect on a third down TD pass from Roberson to Neilsen, so McFarlin was called upon to attempt his second field goal of the season. The junior’s 29-yard kick ricocheted off the right goal post to go through the uprights so the Dogies extended their lead to 10 with just eight minutes to play.

Less than two minutes later, the Bulldogs closed the gap to four with another touchdown. Newcastle D held them out of the end zone on their 2-point conversion attempt so the score remained at 38-34 in the Dogies’ favor with 6:42 to play. 

“It was a fun game of ups and downs and I thought we did a good job offensively,” Conzelman declared. “We did have two turnovers that hurt us bad though, and this is the first time our defense hasn’t forced a turnover as well, so that was huge for them to be able to take care of the ball and was probably the distance maker in the game.”

Wheatland scored on both of the Dogie turnovers and the fumble late in the fourth quarter was especially costly for the Dogies. Up four with only 6:31 to play, the Bulldogs forced a fumble deep in Dogie territory which they capitalized upon to
take a 2-point lead with 5:34 still on the clock.

“It was a play that we had run a couple of times in the game and we had gained some pretty good yardage on it, so that’s what we were banking on,” Conzelman explained. “But they sent some pretty good pressure up the middle, and created some havoc and ended up with the ball.”

The Dogies began their last offensive drive on their own 28 with 5:26 to play. In their third set of downs, Roberson broke free and ran 32
yards to bring his team to the 15-yard line of Wheatland with 2:18 left on the clock. 

The Dogies were unable to get in the end zone, however, so on fourth down McFarlin got the call to attempt his second field goal of the night with the potential to put the Dogies up one. Unfortunately, McFarlin’s attempt was blocked by the Bulldogs who would go on to kneel on the ball and clinch the 40-38 win.

“Every game you go into, you want the chance to win it at the end, and we created that chance,” Conzelman insisted. “We had multiple opportunities throughout the game where we could have limited the errors, so to still have a chance at the end of the game was great.”

“You know, we hadn’t been able to put together four quarters all season, but we sure did on Friday,” Conzelman stated. “They played with urgency, fight, grit and toughness and that’s what you want to have happen. They will remember this game forever, but they also left everything on the field. Wheatland is a good, solid team who have only lost two games all season.” 

The loss meant the end of the season for Newcastle, which made it all the more heartbreaking, especially for the seniors who played their last contest as a Dogie.

“I can hear my dad in the background saying that it’s just a game, but when you put in all the hard work and the effort, it means something to you,” Conzeman nodded. “But I was proud of all the players, the coaches and the fans. It was a great atmosphere.”

Conzelman will have some big shoes to fill as he graduates Roberson, Chick, Josh Womack, Braden Jenkins, Tristan Troftgruben, Darren Simmons, Harry Lichtenberger and Robert Hobbs.

“We’ll be missing all those guys for sure, and Slade was a difference-maker this year,” he began. He had more yardage on Friday than we averaged as a team throughout the season. He ran, he passed and he received so he did it all.”

“It’s hard to replace a guy like that who was as dedicated as he was,” Conzelman continued. “The other guys were also great leaders for the team and worked so hard all season so hopefully the younger guys took note so they can step up into those leadership roles next year.”

Fortunately, Conzelman is also bringing back quite a few core players from the season. Replacing the quarterback will be the big challenge, but Conzelman stated that there are some definite prospects on his squad who can move into that position.

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