By Michael V. Hannigan/HCN
EUSTACE — I have covered some strange football in my time, but Friday night’s game in Eustace was one for the books. It included two lightning delays before finally ending in the second quarter at 9:49 p.m.
But that was just the start of the curious turns the night took.
For the record, the game was called at 11:27 of the second quarter with Winona leading Eustace, 28-14. Don’t let the score fool you, the Bulldogs had shown the ability to move up and down the field and the game was very much in doubt when interrupted.
Here are my 10 Observations from the sidelines.
— TOP TAKEAWAY: You may outscore the Bulldogs, but you aren’t going to play any harder. Eustace brought it on every play and scratched and clawed for every extra yard it could get. Impressive effort.
— EUSTACE GAME BALLS: Jason Losiewicz, 49 yards on three carries and a 44-yard touchdown run. Alejandro Sanchez, a 9-yard touchdown run. Chad Fancher with a fumble recovery for a turnover. Paxton Schwartz with a fumble recovery to keep a drive alive. And center Wesley Kirchenbaur with a 22-yard reception!
— WHAT HAPPENED 1: On the Bulldogs’ third offensive snap of the game, quarterback Alejandro Sanchez dropped back looking to throw a screen. Under heavy pressure, Sanchez threw and the ball was caught … by center Wesley Kirchenbaur! It was something to watch big No. 53 rumbling down the field with the ball in his hand. It is every lineman’s dream and Wesley did a great job picking up 22 yards. But because nothing was simple Friday, there was a fumble at the end of the play that was recovered by Eustace’s Paxton Schwartz. I spoke with the referees after the game and was told the ruling was that the ball was tipped, making Kirchenbaur eligible.
— WHAT HAPPENED 2: Even extra points were offbeat Friday night. Following its second touchdown, Winona trotted out its left-footed kicker (of course!) for the extra point. That kick was blocked by Bulldog Blake Martin, but a penalty nullified that play and moved the ball half the distance to the goal line. With the ball closer, Winona decided to go for two, but before they could even get to the line, the Wildcats were called for too many men in the huddle. That moved the ball back again and Winona kicked the extra point … which wound up being the equivalent of a 24-yard field goal.
— WHAT HAPPENED 3: What does a game need to really elevate to unusual status? Something that clears the benches, of course! That happened on the kickoff after Eustace tied the score at 7-7. A short kick was bobbled and the two teams fought for the ball. And fought for the ball. And continued to fight for the ball. With the play happening near the Eustace sideline, most of the Bulldogs decided to go out and check out the scrum and yellow flags rained down. In the end, offsetting penalties were called and the ball was awarded to Winona even though everyone in the stadium, including yours truly, thought the Bulldogs had it.
— LAUNDRY DAY: As hinted at earlier, the lightning must have energized the referees who obviously wanted to get in on the fun. In 19 minutes of game time there were eight flags, which projects to about 25 penalties for a full game.
— BIG PLAYS: The Bulldog defense had trouble stopping the big play Friday night. Winona scored on plays of 55, 45 and 29 yards. Winona’s ability to accelerate to the outside — particularly quarterback Dakota Pullum — was the difference early in the game.
— FUMBLITIS: It never rained, but the two teams had trouble holding the football. They combined for five fumbles, including three lost, in just under a third of a game.
— DJ MCKEE: Kudos to the press box where Scott McKee is the announcer and controlled the music before the game and during the delays. He managed to hit that playlist sweet spot where the kids dance and the adults don’t cover their ears. He also expertly trolled the weather by playing ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” and Eddie Rabbit’s “I Love A Rainy Night” during the first delay.
— WHAT NUMBER: The new turf in Bulldog Stadium is beautiful. It has that new turf smell. I could tell since I had to cover the game from the sidelines because of the Winona uniforms, which had goldish numbers on white. You couldn’t read the Wildcats’ numbers unless you were on the field, as Announcer McKee pointed out. Worst unis I can remember seeing in a long time.
Eustace will play host to Westwood next week. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
My schedule calls for me to be in Malakoff next week where I will be covering the Tigers taking on Mexia.
Follow Michael on Twitter @mvhannigan