OTTUMWA — The Burlington High School football team practices the “Victory formation” play every week.
For the first time in a year, the Grayhounds got to use it in a game on Friday night.
And after the Grayhounds’ thrilling 27-20 Class 4A District 8 win over Ottumwa at Schaefer Stadium, BHS head coach Zach Shay got to do something he hasn’t done much of since his playing days at Iowa under legendary coach Hayden Fry — the Hokey Pokey.
BHS (1-6 overall, 1-2 district) was dominated in almost every statistical category except the one that matters most — the score.
It was the Grayhounds who made all the big plays, and two key stops, to snap an eight-game losing streak which dated back to last season’s win over the Bulldogs.
Yeah, this one felt good, and the Grayhounds were celebrating long into the night.
“Everybody from players, coaches, trainers, the whole organization … it’s hard to win football games, whether you’re in the NFL, college or high school,” Shay said. “These are special times. It has been a grind this year, but we knew this was a game we could be competitive in and we could win this game. I knew it was going to come down to the last couple minutes and that’s exactly what happened. Hat’s off to our kids finding a way to win.”
“This one feels great, especially since all the tough times before and dealing with all the adversity,” BHS senior quarterback L.T. Beck said. “It’s nice to get one to finally pay off.”
BHS couldn’t have scripted a better start. On the third play from scrimmage, Beck took the ball on a flea-flicker play and hit Mason Leinbach in stride down the left sideline. Leinbach did the rest, outrunning two defenders to complete the 68-yard scoring play and give the Grayhounds a 7-0 lead just 51 seconds into the game.
Just 3 1/2 minutes later, the Grayhounds were in the end zone again. After a BHS fumble set Ottumwa (0-7, 0-3) up at the Grayhounds’ 23-yard line, senior defensive back Cody Parrish jump a route on a pass from Addison Coram intended for Sam Yeaway in the left flat. Parrish stepped in front of Yeaway, intercepted the pass at the 17 and was off to the races. He was able to outrun Yeaway to complete the 83-yard scoring play and give BHS a 13-0 lead just 4 minutes, 7 seconds into the game.
“I read the receiver and I saw the quarterback throw the ball. He was cutting up in front of me, so I just made the read on the wide receiver, made the jump and caught the ball,” Parrish said. “I was scared of (Yeaway) catching me, but I had a great block from James Pleasant.”
“The start is what set the whole game, to be honest,” Beck said.
“Early on we generated those points,” Shay said. “We didn’t drive the ball. We had an explosion pass play to start the game and then we had the pick six.”
Ottumwa, which has lost 17 straight games, scored on its next possession, a 16-yard run by Yeaway, to cut the BHS lead to 13-7.
BHS capitalized on another Ottumwa miscue early in the second quarter, this time a bad snap on a punt attempt which set the Grayhounds up at the Ottumwa 16. On the ensuing play, Taven Harris took the handoff, burst around left end and scampered untouched into the end zone to give BHS a 20-7 lead.
But the Bulldogs responded again. Bryan Cordova’s 13-yard scoring run capped a four-play, 62-yard drive to bring the Bulldogs within 20-13.
Shay had plenty of cause for concern. Ottumwa controlled the ball for 18:12 of the second and third quarters, leaving the Grayhounds’ defense gasping for air.
“That scares me a little bit,” Shay said of the lopsided time of possession. “That’s their style of football. That was very nerve-wracking.”
BHS came up with the first of two key defensive plays which proved to be decisive. Ottumwa drove 92 yards in 7:53 to start the second half and faced a fourth-and-inches at the BHS goal line. The Grayhounds, led by middle linebacker Pleasant, thwarted Coram on a quarterback sneak, preserving the Grayhounds’ precarious seven-point lead.
“They had like two inches and our guys manned up. We hit him and stopped him, knocked him back,” BHS junior Everett Willson said.
“That was the deciding factor in the game, whether we were going to win the game or not,” Parrish said.
Willson, whose mother, Nicole, was sick and unable to attend the game on a rainy, windswept night, came up with the two biggest plays of his life to preserve the victory.
• The Grayhounds, facing a third-and-two at their own 16 to start the fourth quarter, turned to Willson on a play they had worked on all week. The skinny post was wide open as the Bulldog linebacker bit on the play-action fake, Willson hauled in the pass from Beck, cut to the right sideline and outran three Ottumwa defenders to complete the 84-yard scoring play and give BHS a 27-13 lead.
“We’ve been running that all week. It was just text book. The linebackers came up and (Beck) threw the ball and I just went from there,” Willson said. “I knew I could outrun them. I’m quick. I knew they weren’t catching me.”
• On Ottumwa’s ensuing possession, the Bulldogs had a fourth-and-one at the BHS 38 with 8:20 remaining. Willson stormed through the line and sacked Coram for a nine-yard loss.
“I blitzed through the ‘A’ gap, came free and just hit him,” Willson said.
“That play, when Everett had the big sack and then when we had the goal-line stop, that was tremendous,” Shay said. “I was definitely proud of our defense. They really stepped up. Like I always tell them you keep that score down, you’ve always got a chance.”
Ottumwa scored on a 32-yard run by Yeaway with 1:35 left, but the onside kick sailed out of bounds.
At long last, the Grayhounds were able to put the “Victory formation” into use for the final two plays to salt away the win and snap their eight-game losing streak.
“We practice that every week. I was glad to finally see it,” Shay said.
And the dance party was on in the locker room, led by Shay doing the Hokey Pokey.
Yeah, this was felt great.
“A tribute to my old coach, Hayden Fry, we just did the Hokey Pokey in the locker room,” Shay said. “God bless Coach Fry.”
“It’s so nice, the first time this season going into ‘Victory fomation’ and you know you’re about to get a win and celebrate it with all your guys,” Beck said.
“We’ve been wanting one for a while. It feels good to finally get one,” Willson said. “It’s amazing. There’s nothing like it. Winning is fun.”
3rd Down Efficiency;2-7;5-13
4th Down Efficiency;0-0;4-6
Time of possession;15:14;32:46
Scoring by quarters
B—Mason Leinbach 68 pass from L.T. Beck (Cooper Wiemann kick)
B—Cody Parrish 83 interception return (kick failed)
O—Sam Yeaway 16 run (Joey Mitchell kick)
B—Taven Harris 16 run (Wiemann kick)
O—Bryan Cordova 13 run (kick failed)
B—Everett Willson 84 pass from Beck (Max Wiemann kick)
O—Yeaway 32 run (Mitchell kick)
RUSHING: Burlington — Harris 15-82, Beck 4-15, James McCann 3-7, Leinbach 1-(-3), Team 2-(-6). Ottumwa — Yeaway 25-206, Mitchell 9-53, Addison Coram 13-18, Cordova 6-6, Ryley Hougland 1-3, Team 1-(-2), Ryan Simmer 2-(-6).
PASSING: Burlington — Beck 7-12-1-189. Ottumwa — Coram 9-16-0-94, Hougland 0-1-1-0.
RECEIVING: Burlington — Willson 1-84, Leinbach 3-77, Parrish 1-21, Harris 2-7. Ottumwa — Simmer 3-47, Jayqwon Bridges 3-25, Yeaway 2-14, Cordova 1-8.