No. 1 Ennis outlasts Charlo in OT for 2nd 8-Man title in 4 years
CHARLO – Top-ranked Ennis and upstart Charlo traded haymaker after haymaker on a gray afternoon beneath the snow-capped Mission Mountains on Saturday, only to see the other stagger to its feet, brush off the mud and the blood and the musty grass, and live to fight on.
Only when a last-gasp pass in overtime was intercepted — this moments after it appeared Charlo would have one more shot at a tie or victory at the one-foot line — could the normally high-powered Mustangs celebrate their second Class C 8-Man title in four years, this one 30-24 over the relentless Vikings at Halgren Field.
“I’ve been dreaming about this as long as I can remember,” Ennis senior linebacker, receiver and captain Gavin McKitrick said between hugs and handshakes.
It didn’t come easy. The Mustangs (13-0), who only twice had scored fewer than 60 points and three times scored at least 80 this fall, had more than a few moments when the green-clad faithful -- squeezed into a small set of bleachers on a field otherwise ringed with about 1,500 purple-clad Vikings backers -- held their collective breath.
“You go from lowest of the lowest to highest of the highest,” “McKitrick conceded. “We haven’t been tested like that all year.”
Indeed, when Charlo (11-2) quarterback Landers Smith found Brady Fryberger from 15 yards out with 39.5 seconds to play, the game was tied 24-24 and the Vikings were a two-point conversation away from a stunning upset. Smith briefly appeared destined for the end zone on his ensuing run up the middle, but his forward progress was stopped about two feet shy and the teams went to overtime.
The Mustangs took subsequent possession at the 10 and appeared in dire straits facing a third-and-9, but Corbin Wood outjumped two Charlo defenders in the back of the end zone for a pass from his brother Tanner for a 30-24 lead. The two-point conversation failed, just as the game’s previous eight had, putting the Vikings in position to tie or win, also from the 10.
As he had nearly all game, Smith nearly pulled the Vikings off life support when he scrambled on third down from the 13, dodging several Ennis pass rushers, and found senior receiver Zane Hafliger at the goal line, eliciting a temporary roar from the crowd. Hafliger came back for the ball and was ruled down at the one-foot line, but a penalty for ineligible receiver downfield pushed the ball back to the 18 and, moments later, it was over.
The ensuing decisive play put the Ennis defense on full sprint to the sideline, where the entire team erupted in celebration.
“That warms you,” said senior running back Jake Knack, who scored touchdowns from 23 and 2 yards out. “You lose all the pain.”
The pain all went Charlo’s way, though it wasn’t long as the mingled at midfield before the younger Vikings could appreciate what they’d accomplished.
“What a battle, back and forth,” Vikings coach Mike Krahn said. “It’s hard to be disappointed, but I’m disappointed for the kids. They left it all right out on the field. I’m as proud as I could be.”
After all, Charlo had pushed Ennis like no team since the Mustangs’ upset loss to Chinook in the playoffs a year ago, bringing the seniors back with a chip on their shoulder. They’d averaged just over 70 points a game and hadn’t allowed more than 14.
Accustomed to track meets, the Mustangs led only 6-0 at halftime and trailed 12-6 when Smith scored from 19 yards out with 2:30 to go. On the ropes for the first time all year, Ennis needed one play for the equalizer – a 46-yard pass from Tanner Wood to McKitrick, his first of two.
Ennis seemed to sink two more daggers with TDs, only to see Charlo rise from the brink, the last time at :39.5.
“An absolute emotional deal,” second-year Ennis coach Chris Hess agreed. “We were shocked and nervous, but we pulled through. I’m so happy for the guys. They deserve this.”