By Bill Cross
For The Herald Bulletin
ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — On a rainy and cool Friday night, the Alexandria Tigers dropped a heartbreaking 14-7 overtime decision to the Oak Hill Golden Eagles.
It was homecoming for Alexandria, and the Tigers honored the class of 1963’s football squad (from the fall of 1962) prior to the game.
Coach Jim Wehsollek, who led the Tigers from 1958-65, and several players from the team were on the field prior to the game for the coin toss. The 1962 team went 9-1 and celebrated the school’s first Central Indiana Conference title.
Fast forward to 2013, and the Tigers found themselves in a position to challenge for a CIC title with the Golden Eagles standing in the way.
A week after an upset over Mississinewa, the Tigers entered the game with confidence. In part because of poor weather conditions, the game quickly turned into a good old-fashioned smashmouth battle of defense and field position.
The Golden Eagles took the opening kickoff and went on a grind-it-out drive, running 13 plays and taking the ball to the Tigers’ 26-yard line. But a fumbled snap on fourth-and-1 resulted in a 2-yard loss, and the ball went to Alexandria.
The Tigers moved into Oak Hill territory but could not score. On fourth down, quarterback Blaize Kelly stood in the shotgun formation but dropped back into punt formation before the snap. Kelly sailed a punt that rolled inside the 10 and was downed at the 3.
It was the first of two times that Kelly pinned the Golden Eagles back at their won 3.
“Blaize has grown into having a nice feel as a punter,” Alexandria coach Pete Gast said.
The flip in field position helped to slow the Golden Eagles, and they were forced to punt from the 20.
The teams stayed scoreless until 1:22 remained on the clock in the first half when Ethan Bowland mowed his way up the middle into the end zone for the first score. It was momentum for the Golden Eagles heading into halftime, but the Tigers nearly had an answer.
Anthony Thomas scooped up the kickoff at the 5 and ran it all the way to the Oak Hill 36, but the Tigers could not score and went to halftime down 7-0.
After punting on their first possession of the second half, the Tigers forced the first turnover of the game as a fumble by Oak Hill gave Alex the ball at the Eagles’ 42. Kelly hit Drew Johnson twice for 34 yards on the drive, and Evan Hodges took it in from 12 yards out with 7:19 left in the third quarter.
Bryan Carter’s extra point tied the game at 7-7, giving Alexandria new life.
The teams remained tied until Alexandria caught a break. Kelly’s punt, a penalty and good defense put the Golden Eagles’ backs to the wall as they ran a third-and-12 from inside the 1.
After a 4-yard gain, the Golden Eagles punted to the Tigers, and Alex took over at the Oak Hill 36.
A roughing the passer call against Oak Hill moved Alex 15 yards closer on a play that Oak Hill’s Zach Daniels dropped a sure interception. The Tigers moved to the 5-yard line but could get no closer. Carter’s 26-yard field goal attempt was wide right, leaving the score tied.
The Golden Eagles could not move the ball on the next possession and lined up to punt. The punt went off of the back of the up man for Oak Hill and gave Alexandria great field position.
But the defense for Oak Hill rose to the occasion again and forced a Tiger punt.
Oak Hill drove into Tiger territory before Kelly picked off a Derrick Randall pass at the 25 to end the threat and regulation play.
Alexandria won the toss for overtime and chose defense first.
Oak Hill’s first play was a Randall keeper to the outside, resulting in a 1-yard loss. On the second play, the Golden Eagles called Bowland’s number again and it resulted in an 11-yard run up the middle for a 14-7 edge.
Kelly’s pass to the end zone on first down was picked off, and Oak Hill (5-0, 3-0 CIC) held on after a huge scare from the Tigers.
“Our boys are playing hard and giving great effort,” Gast said. “I’m very proud of them.”
Oak Hill came into the game averaging 41 points, the Tigers held them to 14 points and (unofficially) 226 yards, all on the ground. The Tigers could only muster 105 yards of total offense but fought the ninth-ranked Golden Eagles from start to finish.
It is an effort that has Gast energized for the rest of the season.
“It is halfway (in the season), we need to look at it as an opportunity to improve on the things we need to improve on and continue to build and hang our hat on the things we do well,” Gast said. “We’ve got bigger things in store. As long we keep our heads up and come to work Monday through Thursday, we’ll hopefully continue to do this.”
The Tigers (3-2, 1-2) will be out for a little revenge next Friday when they travel to Frankton to take on the Eagles in another conference battle. Frankton defeated Alexandria 32-6 last year to spoil Alexandria’s homecoming.