Tigers pull away from Trojans in rivalry game

South Tama wide receiver Jeramy Dolash, right, and Grinnell defender Tryston Stark, left, both make their best effort to grab a ball that Stark ultimately intercepted during Friday night’s non-district football game. Grinnell defeated STC 28-7. Photo by Robert Maharry
South Tama defenders gather around defensive tackle Juan Robles (72) to congratulate him after he recovered a fumble in the second quarter of Friday night’s game against Grinnell. Photo by Robert Maharry
South Tama running back Rudy Papakee looks for an opening as Grinnell defenders Gene Blalock and Dominick Clayton close in on him during Friday night’s game. Also pictured is STC lineman Diego Victor. Photo by Robert Maharry
South Tama quarterback Gavin Bridgewater attempts to elude pressure from Grinnell defenders Logan McDonald and Cameron Schwarck during Friday night’s game. The Tigers won 28-7. Photo by Robert Maharry

South Tama struck first during Friday night’s home non-district football game against rival Grinnell and even carried a lead into halftime, but the Tigers proved to be too much for the Trojans in the second half, pulling away for a 28-7 victory that put them in the win column for the first time this season.

In Coach Nate Doran’s view, it all came down to mistakes.

“We’re too young, and we don’t have enough guys to make a mistake-filled game,” he said. “We can’t play perfect, we know that, but we can’t have that many mistakes and that many penalties.”

In the first quarter, junior quarterback Gavin Bridgewater broke away for one of South Tama’s only big offensive plays of the night, a 40-yard touchdown scamper that put the Trojans (1-2) up 7-0 and gave them a big momentum boost early in the contest. Grinnell (1-2) did respond with a scoring drive of its own later in the quarter, however, which was capped off when senior running back Tryston Stark punched the ball in from two yards out on a fourth and goal.

STC rebounded to block the extra point, and the Trojans still held a 7-6 advantage for the remainder of the opening frame. The Trojan defense showed its resilience with a key goal line stand that culminated with a bad snap on fourth down and a change of possession. The offense then stagnated with a three and out, but on the next Grinnell possession, defensive tackle Juan Robles picked up a crucial fumble recovery that gave South Tama the ball back at their own 43-yard-line.

Thanks to some great runs from backs Rudy Papakee and Ethan Cruikshank, the Trojans had the ball in the red zone before a slew of penalties derailed the drive and pushed them all the way back into their own territories. It finally ended when Bridgewater was intercepted by Stark.

Despite the offensive mishaps, the STC defense held firm until the end of the half, keeping Grinnell in check and taking a 7-6 lead into the locker room. The Tigers’ fortunes began to shift midway through the third, however, when Bridgewater was sidelined with an injury, and Grinnell took advantage of a golden opportunity when Carson Penyich returned a short Papakee punt to the STC 24-yard-line.

From there, it only took a few running plays before Grinnell quarterback Brady Coffman ran in on a two-yard keeper, and a successful two-point pass to Penyich made the score 14-7 in favor of the Tigers. With Jeramy Dolash in at quarterback, the STC offense continued to struggle, and after another Papakee punt pinned the Tigers deep in their own territory, they made perhaps the biggest play of the night.

Coffman found a streaking Penyich down the left sideline on a fly route, and the junior receiver did the rest, covering about half the field on foot and waltzing in for a 96-yard touchdown. After a failed two-point conversion attempt, the Tigers led 20-7 and had captured all of the momentum heading into the final frame.

“We just can’t give them momentum. We had them on their toes, and then we made mistakes and gave them the momentum,” Doran said. “It’s not excuses. It’s just reality. We made too many mistakes to win a ballgame.”

Grinnell capitalized on another STC miscue when they picked up a Papakee fumble and set up a short field for the final touchdown drive of the night. Kinnick Johnson ran in from nine yards out to make the score 28-7, which was how the game ended.

The STC offense finished with just 134 total yards of offense, 127 of which came on the ground, while the Tigers gained 341 yards — 189 on the ground and 142 through the air. Bridgewater amassed 60 yards and a score on 17 carries, but no other Trojan player gained more than 30 yards individually. Doran said he would like to see his offense do a better job of finishing plays going forward.

“We’re young. We’ve got some guys out there that, some of these guys, this is the first time they’ve ever played football at the varsity level,” he said. “We’ve got some undersized guys on the line. They’re trying, but it’s not in the stars for some of them… At the end of the day, we’ve gotta finish. We’re just not finishing plays.”

Johnson was the top rusher for the Tigers with 18 carries for 92 yards and a score, and Coffman ran 16 times for 84 yards with two scores to go along with 142 yards on 4-of-6 passing, including the long bomb to Penyich, who finished with two catches, 123 yards and a TD.

Papakee led the defensive effort for STC with 7.5 total tackles, and Cyrus Mathes added 6.5. Robles picked up a fumble for the lone Trojan takeaway of the night.

STC is on the road for its first two district games against traditionally strong opponents, first at Benton Community (2-1) on Friday and then at Independence (3-1) on Sept. 23.

“This is probably gonna be the two hardest weeks we’re going to have definitely in a row coming up. They’re phenomenal football teams and great programs, and if we cower and we step back and just let them have their way, it’s gonna be ugly,” Doran said. “We have to step up. We’ve got our backs against the wall, and now it’s time to fight or cower. And I’m hoping we fight.”