Mid-County head coach Gary Denhart has witnessed a 2-0 football game before and his team came out on the short end. Friday night, the safety went his way.

Mid-County head coach Gary Denhart has witnessed a 2-0 football game before and his team came out on the short end. Friday night, the safety went his way.

Denhart’s Cougars handed Ridgewood its first loss of the season, with the lone points coming when his defense corralled Spartans’ quarterback Cole Franks in the end zone in the third quarter.

“As an eighth grader my high school, Oakwood, played Westville for the 50th anniversary of the first-ever night football game. It was national news,” Denhart said. “Oakwood lost 2-0 and my cousin dropped the winning touchdown pass in the end zone. I’ll have to give my cousin a call tonight.”

With sloppy field conditions and a steady rain, it was clear after a scoreless first half that the Lincoln Trail Conference opener would likely swing on one big play or miscue.

Ridgewood provided the miscue, and Mid-County’s defense delivered the big play.

The Spartans halted a Mid-County drive deep in Ridgewood territory thanks to a fourth-down interception by Kaleb Buss midway through the third quarter. Two plays later, Ridgewood’s Franks bobbled the football as he dropped back to pass. He regained possession but was forced to retreat to his own end zone, where a host of Mid-County defenders greeted him for the game’s lone points.

“Our defense kept us in the game all night,” Denhart said. 

Mid-County’s defense loomed particularly large in the first half. Ridgewood started drives at Mid-County’s 46, 25, 33 and 32 in the first half, but failed to put any points on the board. Franks appeared to put the Spartans in front in the first quarter as he bolted up the middle on a keeper from the M-C 10-yard line. But just as he neared the goal line, the ball popped out of his hands and the Cougars recovered.

After three turnovers and zero first downs in the second half, the Ridgewood offense mustered one last gasp in the game’s closing minutes. 

With 4:44 remaining and the ball on its own 36, the Spartans drove to the Mid-County 20, thanks in large part to Gage Miller hauling in a 50-50 ball on a fourth-and-12 play that gained 32 yards to the M-C 20. Franks was stopped for no gain and then threw a pair of incompletions, which left the Spartans with a fourth-down decision. Head coach Bruce Redding opted to let Franks attempt a 37-yard field goal, but the boot came up well short and the Cougars ran out the clock with two kneels for the win.

Both teams are 2-1 on the season. Denhart had nothing but praise for Friday night’s opponent.

“I just told Coach Redding that the minute we saw them on film, I stopped and said this team is better,” Denhart said. “Whatever he has done in one year, he’s made a difference. He’s probably like me and would have liked to played in better conditions.”

Mid-County hits the road Friday, Sept. 14, to face a winless West Central squad next Friday, while Ridgewood plays host to Stark County in its traditional Saturday afternoon homecoming game.

 

Mid-County by the numbers

Mid-County only mustered 100 yards of total offense in the win, but the Cougars’ opportunistic defense produced the game’s lone points and forced Ridgewood into four turnovers — three fumbles and an interception.

M-C QB Jacob Varner completed 3 of 6 passes for 39 yards and was picked off once. Isaac Cordle accounted for 35 of M-C’s receiving yards on one catch. Jason Clark added two catches for four yards.

Varner led the team in rushing with 32 yards on 12 attempts, while Cordle added 21 yards on five touches.

Leading tacklers for the M-C defense were Varner, Parker Taylor, Tucker Sams and Ernie Heinrich.

Varner, Taylor and Sams all recorded fumble recoveries, and Sams picked off his third pass of the season.

 

Around the LTC

The winners all pitched shutouts in the opening week of Lincoln Trail Conference play. 

In addition to Mid-County’s 2-0 win over Ridgewood, Annawan-Wethersfield blanked United 40-0, Mercer County stopped Stark County 18-0 and Princeville blasted West Central 53-0. 

In Monday’s fresh-soph action, United slipped past Annawan-Wethersfield 22-14, Ridgewood handled Mid-County 40-18, Mercer County held off Stark County 34-30 and Princeville routed West Central 40-6.