MOOSEHEART – With a little more than two minutes to play and the score tied, Alden-Hebron football coach John Lalor stepped out onto the turf field at Mooseheart and challenged the offense to win the game.
“We can march down this field and win this game,” Lalor began as he moved his headset away from his mouth, “Or you can let [Mooseheart] push you around. This is what we’ve been waiting for all season.”
The Giants began their drive at the Mooseheart 48-yard line after the defense forced and recovered a fumble. The Giants gained only two yards on three plays and were facing a crucial fourth-and-8. Sophomore quarterback Colten Cashmore uncorked a pass down the sideline and found a streaking Nick Beck for 40 yards. Beck hurt his left ankle on the play and Lalor turned to running back Nate Peterson to punch it in from the six.
Peterson picked up the six yards on two carries, including the game-winning score with 40.5 seconds remaining. The Giants held on for a 23-16 Northeastern Athletic Conference victory.
“The kids grew up a bit today,” Lalor said.
The Giants (4-2, 4-2 NAC) battled back after a rough first half that included four fumbles – all of which were recovered by Mooseheart. The Red Ramblers scored a 70-yard defensive touchdown after recovering one of the fumbles for the game’s first score.
A-H put the ball on the ground again on the next drive, which Mooseheart (4-2, 4-2) turned into another touchdown. The Giants’ turnovers put them in a 16-0 hole at the halfway point.
Peterson accounted for three first-half fumbles and Lalor said that defenses have been keying on the sophomore, trying to rip the ball from his hands before they tackle him.
“He’s a good runner, but sometimes he tries to do too much,” Lalor said. “He tries to fight for those extra yards each time and that’s when he loses it.”
Ideally, the Giants want to use Beck in the passing game and as a spell-back for Peterson, but in the second half Lalor used Beck out of the backfield almost exclusively. The senior had only two carries for six yards in the first half but exploded for 85 yards on 17 touches in the second half.
The comeback started right away in the third quarter as Beck carried the ball six times for 59 yards on their first possession of the second half that set up a 12-yard touchdown run by Cody Nelson. The Giants then got the ball back after Avi Mor intercepted a pass over the middle. A-H marched 63 yards for another touchdown and decided to go for two.
The Giants converted the play two different times, though each was negated by a penalty. Still needing two to tie, the third try began at the 16-yard line, and Cashmore found Beck for the conversion.
“I knew if I didn’t stay in the pocket and let the play develop, I wouldn’t hear the end of it from coach,” Cashmore said. “I just had to trust Nick.”
Now the focus was on stopping the Red Ramblers, who have several players who can make explosive plays. The two receivers, JJ Odunsi and Hameed Odunewu, stand at 6-foot-2 and 6-4, respectively, and combined for 125 yards. Because A-H doesn’t have players who can match up physically with the pass catchers, the Giants played a lot of 2-deep coverage to limit the big plays and it worked. The Giants didn’t allow a point in the second half and had two interceptions.
The strong defense set up Cashmore’s first career game-winning drive and a chance for Peterson to redeem himself after a tough first half.
“I had a bad first half and I needed to pick it up,” Peterson said of his game-winning score. “I just gripped it as hard as I could. I just knew I had to forget about [the fumbles] and not live in the past if I was going to help us win.”