Lakota West edged by Moeller in Division I regional final

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

MASON -- Lakota West had its chances against Moeller, but some untimely mistakes cost the Firebirds their first trip to the final four.

West had a touchdown negated by a penalty in the first half and ultimately that might have been the difference, as Moeller came away with a 21-17 win in the Division I, Region 4 final Friday at Mason’s Atrium Stadium.

A fumbled snap, one of two on the night, and a third dropped pass with an open lane to the end zone in the fourth quarter also played a factor in West’s inability to pull ahead late, though the Firebirds (11-2) crossed into Crusaders territory for one last attempt in the final minute. They came up short for a second straight year in the regional championship, while Moeller (11-3) advances to the Division I state semifinals against Springfield (12-1) on Friday.

“We didn’t make enough plays,” West coach Tom Bolden said. “They made the plays, we didn’t make enough. It’s the little things. I preach that to the kids all the time, and unfortunately, some of those little things come back to bite us in the butt and it did tonight. Hats off to Moeller. They made more plays than we did but it’s a tough one to swallow because we’re a really good football team that didn’t play our best.”

The Firebirds went into the locker room down 14-9 after settling for a field goal on a drive that they thought should have been a touchdown in the second quarter, and although they briefly took a lead in the third quarter, West couldn’t hold it.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Moeller regained the upper hand early in the fourth quarter on a Jordan Marshall 4-yard run for the final score, and with 5:36 left West quarterback Mitch Bolden couldn’t handle the snap on third down near midfield. The Crusaders were able to do enough offensively on the ensuing drive to run out the clock so West had just 55 seconds left to make a comeback.

West made it to the Crusaders’ 34 but two passes to the end zone fell incomplete to end the game.

“We grabbed the lead, but hats off to them for driving down late in the game,” Tom Bolden said. “It all goes back to they made more plays than we did, with some costly penalties, the costly turnover early in the game, a fourth-and-1 you might as well call a turnover, and unfortunately for those kids, the bad drops, but it’s part of life, part of the game.

“We knew we had a shot coming down to the end, but it’s a tough one. … When you get to these big-time games, the little things are what you’ve got to concentrate on and you’ve got to make plays and we didn’t.”

After a slow start for both teams, Moeller broke the ice late in the first quarter after the Firebirds fumbled a handoff deep in their own territory and Chase Brown recovered to set up Noah Geselbracht’s 7-yard pass to Marshall for a 7-0 lead with 2:17 left.

West answered on the following drive but as the Firebirds were celebrating Bolden’s touchdown pass to Trent Lloyd, a late flag came out indicating Bolden had crossed the line of scrimmage before making the throw. West ended up settling for a 30-yard field goal by Tyler Bohn to make it a 7-3 game with 10:06 left in the second quarter.

The teams then traded touchdowns, including a 37-yard pass from Mitch Bolden to Alex Afari to close the gap to 14-9 with 4:29 left in the half. Moeller blocked the extra point attempt, then drove down to the other end on the ensuing drive and was about to score again when West junior linebacker Mike Brankamp stepped up to pick off a pass at the 1-yard line to hold the deficit to five points going into the break.

Lakota West had never trailed at halftime, but the defensive momentum carried into a three-and-out for Moeller to open the second half, and the Firebirds took their only lead at 17-14 on Cameron Goode’s 6-yard run and a two-point conversion pass to Lloyd with 2:54 left in the third.

That would be the last time West would reach the red zone.

“Guys played their tails off, and we went out and did what we do,” Moeller coach Mark Elder said. “Offensively, we ran the ball, threw the ball, stayed a balanced attack. We were running our base stuff on defense. We just went out and executed really well. The guys played really hard. It was an up-and-down, back and forth ball game and the belief in that locker room is special.

“This has been our season. We’ve had a bunch of these types of games, and that’s what makes this group really special is the circumstances, we’re not letting whatever is happening at that moment affect us and cause us to ride a wave up or down. We’re just playing steady and understanding we can go out and make the next play.”

Geselbracht threw for 140 yards and two touchdowns and Marshall finished with 123 yards rushing. Mitch Bolden had 194 yards passing and one touchdown to go along with 88 yards rushing, while Afari collected 89 yards on five catches and also led the defense with nine tackles

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