Clinging to a five-point lead, South Tama County's football squad came through with a game-winning interception from an unlikely hero.
Vinton-Shellsburg came within 21 yards of ruining South Tama's home opener Friday. The Vikings were driving for the likely game-winning score during the final two minutes of the game.
A Vikings' first-down-and-10 changed the game in a matter of seconds. Vinton-Shellsburg senior Chase Overton dropped back to pass before throwing to the right side of the offense, but he didn't see STC sophomore Justin Suchanek standing near his receiver. Suchanek stepped in front of the receiver, caught the ball and fell to the ground.
South Tama sophomore Justin Suchanek intercepts a Vikings pass during the final minute of Friday’s contest. The interception saved the Trojans victory as the Vikings were driving down the field to score the game-winning touchdown. South Tama defeated Vinton-Shellsburg 26-21 to improve to 1-1 on the season.
"It was exciting," STC junior Bo Blocker said. "It was a dogfight out there. I didn't expect to come out there and have that happen. I came here to win and (Vikings) put up a good fight."
Suchanek's interception sealed up the South Tama home opener. STC (1-1) beat Vinton-Shellsburg (1-1) 26-21.
"Suchanek made the big play at the end," STC head coach Jay Hoskey said. "He had some bad plays earlier when he didn't make plays on the running game, but he's a good finesse kid, too. He's a good receiver, too.
"I love it for the kids that we were able to get out of here with a win," Hoskey said. "This kind of shows that if you never give up, which is one of the things we've been preaching, you can win. Hopefully this shows us how you just have to keep fighting."
Although Suchanek made the game-saving play, he was quick to credit his teammates for the victory.
"It was awesome," Suchanek said. "Everyone played hard. It wasn't just my catch. It was everybody playing every play."
Suchanek's interception saved the Trojans from a possible controversial ending. On its last offensive possession, the Trojans opted to pass the ball on third-down-and-long with less than two minutes on the clock after the Vikings called their final timeout.
Junior quarterback Dalton Doyle scrambled out of the pocket and attempted a pass to senior Zach Morris who was heavily covered. The pass was incomplete, stopping the clock. An STC running play would have taken the clock to under one minute, but instead STC punted and gave the Vikings the ball with 1:32 remaining in the game.
"I told Dalton that unless he's absolutely open, it's a sprint out," Hoskey said. "We were trying to run these guys long to run off the defensive backs so we can run the ball. In his eyes, Zach was wide open. If we come down with that pass then we're heroes. Instead we're almost goats the way it was. We'll work on that and make it a bit clearer on how open is wide open."
Vinton-Shellsburg started its drive at its own 44-yard line. The Trojans nearly stopped the drive on third down. They sacked the Vinton-Shellsburg quarterback, which would have forced the Vikings into a fourth-down-and-17, but a facemask penalty gave Vinton-Shellsburg a new first down. Three plays later, Suchanek snatched the interception and saved the game for the Trojans.
"I just got to my cover and I saw the ball coming, "Suchanek said. "I just had to go up for it. I didn't know he was right there. I just had to tuck it and go down. I held on tight."
Before the sophomore's interception, South Tama had to overcome its first deficit in the game in the fourth quarter. After a pair of second half Vikings' touchdowns, South Tama trailed 21-20 with 10:18 remaining in the game. STC had punted twice and turned it over on downs in its three second-half possessions before trailing the Vikings.
Doyle took over the Trojans' offense with his legs and arm on the drive. He led off the drive with a 19-yard run and then converted a third-and-8 with a 13-yard pass to Suchanek. Doyle threw passes two-consecutive passes to Blocker for 10 and 17 yards.
With the ball at the Vikings' 21, Doyle found senior Tyler Martens for an eight-yard pass. Blocker picked up a first down with a six-yard run before scoring on the next play with a six-yard run. STC tried a two-point conversion, but a Blocker run was stuffed by the Vikings. However, STC led 26-21 with 5:08 remaining in the game.
"Dalton Doyle is a good leader," Hoskey said. "He did everything out there to bring his team back. He manufactured some plays on that drive after we got behind to get us into the end zone."
Vinton-Shellsburg took the lead early in the fourth quarter when sophomore Nick Hyland broke three tackles before breaking for a 60-yard touchdown run. That capped off a five-play, 92-yard drive.
"We took it to them early when we were playing with all of our energy," Hoskey said. "We're playing a lot of guys both ways. We're looking for guys that can measure up and play to rest some of these guys, but yet we haven't had the confidence in the next group of guys. We are who we are and these guys have to be able to go and have resolve."
The Vikings also scored on their second drive of the second half. The drive started with a 38-yard pass that moved them deep into STC territory. A 12-yard rushing touchdown finished the four-play, 65-yard scoring drive.
"This is a game that could have gone either way," Hoskey said. "Vinton played a very good game. They have a couple quick kids and a couple big linemen that played well."
It was South Tama's scoring drive before halftime that helped decide the contest. STC drove 80 yards while running the final 6:15 off of the clock. STC kept the ball on the ground for all 15 plays. Sophomores Bubba Craun and Jerry Lowe, along with Blocker and Doyle, carried the ball during the drive.
After being stuffed on first down at the Vinton-Shellsburg 4-yard line, the Trojans called a time out with less than 20 seconds on the game clock. They were again stopped on second down, but with no time outs. The Trojans hurried back to the line of scrimmage and narrowly snapped the ball before the clock expired. After the ball was snapped, Blocker ran left for the controversial touchdown, giving the Trojans a 20-7 halftime lead.
"That was a big one," Hoskey said. "We called two plays there, knowing if the first one didn't go, we had to line up and go again. When you start smashing the ball at people, you start to think that's what I can do. Maybe we should have finessed that one a bit more on the first play."
South Tama scored touchdowns on its two opening possessions of the game Friday. The first was a six-play, 48-yard drive that was capped off with a Blocker one-yard touchdown run. The second was went 52 yards in five plays. Craun broke an 18-yard run for the touchdown.
Blocker led the Trojans on the ground with 26 carries for 144 yards and three touchdowns. Doyle ran for 64 yards on 12 rushing attempts, while also completing 6-of-12 passes for 75 yards.
"I think Bo Blocker played a heck of a game on both sides of the ball," Hoskey said. "He did a good job on defense and he was in the right position. He's one of those guys that's playing kickoff return, on offense and running the ball tough."
South Tama will begin its Class 3A District action this week when it travels to Dallas Center-Grimes (1-1). The varsity game will start at 7:30 p.m.
"(Dallas Center-Grimes) look pretty good," Hoskey said. "Going into this season, I thought they were going to be the team on the rise this year. They were a good team last year despite their record. I hope we can have a good week of practice and then go down there and play well."