In an immediate sense the Wolves players were celebrating a heart-stopping 27-20 win over an OCC-Cardinal rival. In the bigger picture they had perhaps just saved their season.
Only about three weeks and the OHSAA computer’s point system will let them know for sure.
In one of the more gruesome high school football games the area has seen this season, Kilbourne fought off 105 yards of penalties and a spirited fourth quarterback by South to pick up its sixth win of the season.
“I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day,” said Kilbourne coach Vince Trombetti, whose team improved to 6-2 overall and 2-1 in league play.
A 6-yard run by junior quarterback Aaron Kingcade on Kilbourne’s second possession of overtime proved to be the deciding score. On first-and-goal Kingcade called his own number on the option and found a large space in the middle of the line.
“Our fullback made a great fake and opened up a huge hole for me,” said Kingcade, who finished with 169 yards passing and 70 rushing, accounting for two of his team’s touchdowns.
After a 32-yard field goal by Chris Rehkopf gave Kilbourne an 8-point advantage with less than four minutes to play in the game, it looked as if the game would be spared any drama.
But South quarterback Cortez Fleming led the Wildcats (3-5, 1-2) on a 69-yard drive, scoring his third rushing touchdown of the game on a 4-yard run with 32 second to play. He followed that up with a two-point conversion run to tie the game at 20.
“Cortez’ heart is as big as he is,” South coach Rocky Pentellos said of his junior quarterback, who finished with 228 yards of total offense.
The teams each missed field goals in the first overtime, with Kilbourne’s offense getting the ball first in the second overtime on the alternating possession.
South shot itself in the foot on its last opportunity to tie or win the game, committing three illegal substitution penalties (one was declined) and being unable to advance the ball passed its starting point of the 20-yard line despite two Kilbourne penalties of their own.
On the final play of the game, a fourth-and-goal from the 20, Kilbourne switched to a pro-style 4-3 alignment and brought middle linebacker Dan Sprague on a blitz. Sprague forced Fleming out of the pocket to his right and prevented him from setting his feet for a final throw into the end zone.
“I’m very proud of our team,” said Trombetti. “They hung tough and stayed focused.”
After a Week 6 loss to Pickerington Central, 4-2 Kilbourne felt like it would have to run the table to guarantee itself a postseason berth.
Early prognostications now have Kilbourne moving up two spots to sixth in the standing for Region 3 after the win over South.
With the top eight teams reaching the state tournament and games against 4-4 Olentangy and 5-3 Dublin Jerome still on the schedule, Kilbourne will almost certainly get in with an 8-2 record and even 7-3 would leave it reaching for a calculator.
Not that Trombetti and the Wolves want to take that chance.
“We’ve been saying since our loss to Pickerington Central that we’re fighting for our playoff lives,” Trombetti said. “This was step two of that process.”