MONTAGUE — One of the hardest things to do in sports is to stem the tide when things are going poorly, but that’s what Montague had to do Friday night with the season on the line.
The Wildcats were about to go to overtime with Ravenna, a situation they by all rights shouldn’t have been in, because except for two long Bulldogs’ passes, they had dominated the entire night. But five turnovers had allowed Ravenna to hang around, and in fact only a blocked extra point after the Bulldogs’ tying touchdown had even permitted the Wildcats to maintain a deadlock.
“I told the boys, this game’s going to end right here, and we’re going to go into overtime,” Montague coach Pat Collins said. “You can’t worry about this whole drama of the game. You’ve got to forget about that, because we’re going to play a new game from 10 yards in. Showing up, just clearing your head and coming into overtime with a whole new mindset.
“They’ve worked a lot on mental training, our guys do. We work a lot on being resilient. We do that in the off-season too. I thought they did a great job just resetting themselves for the OT, mentally, and that’s a big thing in a game like this.”
That reset worked, and the Wildcats were able to escape in the overtime, 20-13, to clinch their third straight district title.
Quarterback Drew Collins credited the team’s six seniors with keeping the team’s heads together despite the miscues.
“All those guys are really tough,” Collins said. “They can really regroup us and get us back in it...It’s really tough to regroup. I credit it to the seniors.”
The turnover issues Montague had were virtually identical to the ones they had in the first meeting between the teams, a 17-7 Ravenna win. In that one, the Wildcats lost four fumbles. In this game, Montague lost three fumbles and threw two interceptions — the first two picks it had had against anyone. In fact, Montague only had three turnovers in eight games against opponents not named Ravenna — and nine against the Bulldogs in two matchups.
“Seven in (the first) 10 games was the lowest we’ve ever recorded since I’ve been here,” Collins said. “It’s got to be something to do with (Ravenna).”
Things started off smoothly. The Wildcats (9-2) didn’t allow a Ravenna first down the entire opening quarter and drove easily down the field on their first drive, with two catches and a pass interference penalty, all by Johnny Monette, leading the way. On top of that, the Wildcats ran a nifty fake PAT pass play for a two-pointer. When Andrew Kooi drilled a 37-yard field goal at the halftime buzzer, it was 11-0 and Ravenna had 30 offensive yards.
The Bulldogs got pinned on their own three-yard line by consecutive personal foul penalties and elected to take an intentional safety on a punt to make it 13-0 Montague rather than give the Wildcats great field position. The gambit worked, as the Wildcats didn’t score again in regulation.
However, Ravenna’s offense still had nothing going until Conner Kilbourne found a well-covered Calvin Schullo for a 36-yard touchdown on fourth-and-14 to get his team on the board. Another Montague turnover, a missed field goal, and a shocking 81-yard catch-and-run by Schullo later, it was suddenly 13-13. Montague managed to gather itself and block the PAT, which allowed the game to go to overtime.
After the third ‘Cats fumble, Montague basically put it all on quarterback Drew Collins, rarely having the ball leave his hands the rest of the game. He scored on third down of the overtime from four yards out.
“He’s just a big dude, a big guy,” coach Collins said of his son. “We want to run downhill with a big guy, and that’s about it. It’s not rocket science, really.”
Montague’s defense held on Ravenna’s overtime possession, picking off Kilbourne on fourth down to set off a wild celebration.
The Wildcat defense, outside of the two long passes, was dominant. The pass rush was especially effective, not allowing Kilbourne time to find open receivers. Walker Martin, Hayden McDonald and Mark Vanderleest came after him time and again. Drew Collins said the team was well-prepared on that side of the ball.
“Our Monday through Thursday really showed this week,” Drew said. “We were really prepared. Ravenna has a lot of formations and we knew where to line up on everyone. I don’t think we made a mistake on that part of it.”
“Phenomenal defensive performance once again,” coach Collins said. “I keep saying defense wins championships, and they just got their first one right there...Overall, they’re the unit right now that’s making us the team we are.”
Montague gets to host this week’s regional final thanks to Sanford Meridian, who upset Hemlock a week after knocking off Ithaca, giving the Wildcats home field advantage.
Coach Collins said he’s extremely pleased with his team’s grit, noting that only four of the players on the field Friday had had big roles in last year’s postseason run.
“I’m proud of those other guys that dug down and followed suit with what these teams have been doing for many years,” coach Collins said. I’m really happy with them.”