By Dave Pearce
The Heritage Hills Patriots must have enjoyed looking at Wes Harness on Friday night at the Jungle in Lincoln City. For nearly the entire first half, either a faulty helmet strap or a clever way of tackling meant that the speedy senior back was out of his helmet and out of the game about every other play.
A new rule this season states that if a player’s helmet comes off in the course of a play, that player must come out for the next play. And who better for the Patriots to see on the sidelines than the guy that eventually ran nearly 200 yards against them. Harness lost his helmet no fewer than ten times in the first half.
But at the end of the night, they would see his backside more than his face as the offensive line opened a bit of daylight and Harness did the rest, bringing the Vikings from a 27-13 third-quarter deficit to a 34-27 victory in the fourth quarter.
In a game that was not particularly well officiated on either side, a pass interference call after Jake Bender had apparently intercepted a Heritage Hills pass in the third quarter might just have done the trick. It set up the Patriots for an easy score from inside the 10 to give them what appeared to be an insurmountable 27-13 lead with 9:22 remaining in the game.
But more importantly for the Vikings and their fans, it apparently fired up a team that had seemed just a half-second slow at times and perhaps not playing to its potential at other times in the game.
“For some reason, it just seemed like we were slow off the ball on both sides of the ball,” Coach Joe Gengelbach said. “But for some reason there we just got kept telling the kids we could still do this, despite the fact they held onto the ball most of the third quarter.”
But when the interference call was made and the Patriots scored on the next play, Harness seemed to take the call personally.
“If that doesn’t fire you up, then just take your equipment and get out of here,” Harness shouted at his teammates as they headed to the sidelines. From that point on, things went the Viking’s way.
The extra point attempt hit the crossbar, falling back on the field and helping make up for an early missed extra point by the Vikings, one of a few mistakes made by the Vikes as nerves seemed to get in the way early in the game.
But determination took over for the Vikings.
“We had challenged them a little bit at half-time and they stepped up and definitely late in the third quarter and early in the fourth,” Gengelbach said. “We got a couple of breaks there and that’s going to happen once in awhile. I think our defense got a little bit inspired there. There were two big turnovers and both of them led to scores.”
On the ensuing kick-off return, the Patriots kicked the ball away from Harness to sophomore James Marshall, who rant the ball to the 30, some of the best field position the Vikings had seen all night. But junior lineman Tyler Adkins went down on the play and was lost for the remainder of the game. An MRI was scheduled for Saturday but results were not available at press time.
But with or without Adkins, who had shown a burst of speed and made a touchdown-saving tackle in the second period, these Vikings were determined and momentum had switched.
After an incomplete pass on first down, quarterback Alec Werry threw the ball over the top to Nick Neidig whose 6-foot-4 frame allowed him to go up and make the catch at the Heritage Hills 46.
On the very next play Werry found Marshall who caught the ball and carried it to the Patriot 33 before going out of bounds and stopping the clock. The Patriots took a time out but momentum had already swung.
Coming out of the time out, Jacob Bender caught a short pass to the 25 and on second and two- Werry hit Harness who was brought down at the 16.
On first down, Harness gained two, and picked up six more on the next play. That left the Vikings facing third-and-2. That’s when Werry looked for Neidig in the back of the end zone and the senior apparently wanted the ball more as he hauled it in over a receiver to put life back in the North Posey sidelines with 7:02 remaining. Neidig’s extra point made the score 27-20.
On the ensuing kick-off return, Neidig’s kick-off allowed the Viking special team to get down the field and the bone-jarring hit forced a rare Patriot fumble at the Viking 14.
The Viking offense was back on the field and after an incomplete pass, Colton Martin gained five and left the Vikings facing third and five.
But again, the senior Harness would not be denied and got outside the containment and carried the ball to the three. He ran it in on the next play to tie the score at 27-all with 4:50 remaining.
A fired up special team got down the field and Marshall teamed with Alex Goebel to put the stop on any thoughts the Patriots might have of running for a big return.
The Viking defense then stepped up and proved they could stop what had appeared to be an unstoppable offense. They held the Patriots to negative two yards in three downs and forced a punt at 3:57.
On the first play from scrimmage, harness got loose and much of the Patriot team got to see his backside as he carried the ball to their 30.
On first down, Martin picked up five and the Patriots decided it was time to use their final time out. But again, it was to no avail as the Vikings could smell blood.
Coming out of the time out, Werry found Marshall at the 15 yard line.
Then, on first down, Harness got loose for what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown but a holding call backed the Vikings up where they not only lost the score but faced first and 20. But there was no stopping this train.
Harness got ten of the yards back on first down as his line held up. On second down, Harness was “horse-collared” to stop him on a big gain, moving the ball half the distance to the goal line.
On the first play, Harness again got the call and again, he delivered. With 2:06 remaining, the Vikings had taken a 34-27 lead.
“We have told our kids and I think they all feel this way that everybody has a job,” Gengelbach said. “The linemen have to do their job and they are never going to get any pats on the head. They are just the unsung heroes. We always call them ‘God’s Children’ because without them, you don’t do anything and none of the skill people can do anything. You aren’t going to pass, run, or throw the ball without them. The boys understand that in the formations we run, Wes is going to tote it a lot. But the same token, these guys take a lot of pride doing the things they can do to make us gain yards.”
Again, a deep and high kick led to poor field position for the Patriots and with the clock winding down, the Patriots were forced to go to the air.
After a loss of two on the first pass play, senior Eric O’Risky stepped in front of the intended receiver and stayed on his feet for the interception and 15 yards put the game away for the Vikings.
“The big interception there at the end really helped us,” Gengelbach said.
Early in the game, the Vikings lost a touchdown on a rare penalty when a player came off the field.
The win raised the Vikings to 4-0 in the Pocket Athletic Conference and to 5-0 overall.
“Our number one goal every year is to win the conference,” Gengelbach said. “We have three more games and we have Forest Park up there next week and for some reason, they always play against us like there’s no tomorrow. Then Tell City got a big win tonight and we still have to face them. You have to take one game at a time and focus on that game. You do what you have to do to get ready to do for that one game and then you can begin preparing for the next one. No one wants to slip up or fall down because we have had five tough opponents and have been fortunate enough so far to come out on top.”
Juniors Trey Staples and Tyler Adkins are out and are game-by-game.