You could say that the 59th meeting between the Bradford and Tremper football teams was memorable.
Of course, memorable leaves room for interpretation.
Yes, Bradford’s 6-0 Southeast Conference overtime victory at Ameche Field on a cold, blustery Friday night was one of the closest games in the rivalry’s history.
But it was mostly memorable because this game, for lack of a better description, was more like an off-key karaoke performance than a night at the symphony.
It wasn’t surprising that two young, offensively-challenged teams — who feature solid defenses, to be fair — couldn’t muster a point in 48 minutes of regulation in adverse weather conditions, but the numbers reveal a much uglier tale.
The teams combined for just 427 total yards on 140 plays, a gruesome average of 3.1 yards per play. They also combined for nine turnovers, 15 accepted penalties — the officials didn’t have their best night, either — for 145 yards and 11 punts.
Both coaches were succinct about the quality of Friday’s game.
“We set football back 40 years tonight,” Tremper coach Jared McGranahan said. “It was ugly all the way around.”
Even the winning coach knew his team didn’t author a work of art so much as a work of perseverance.
“It wasn’t great,” Bradford coach Troy Bowe said. “I’m sorry you had to watch that.”
The effort, though, could not be questioned.
“The kids hung in there and fought hard,” Bowe said. “The defense played great. … The kids did a great job. We overcame some questionable calls, shall we say.”
Said McGranahan: “I’m really proud of the kids’ effort. The kids’ effort is unbelievable, and it is pretty much every week. But when it mattered most, we found a way to not come through, unfortunately.”
In the end, it was a sweet victory for the Red Devils’ players, no matter how it was accomplished.
Bradford (2-6 overall, 2-4 SEC) is almost certainly, though not officially, eliminated from postseason contention, but a fifth straight win in the series made sure the team’s seniors will finish without a loss to their biggest rival.
“It’s amazing, especially the last time I’m going to play them, making sure I beat them that last time (and) get the bragging rights,” Bradford senior defensive back Sayge Terrell said.
Despite the scoreless regulation, each team had opportunities to put points on the board but failed for one reason or another.
With 3 minutes, 26 seconds left in the third quarter, Bradford started at its own 25-yard line and marched to a second-and-goal from Tremper’s 5 early in the fourth largely due to the bruising running of 6-foot-1, 225-pound sophomore Nathaniel Barker IV (15 carries, 82 yards).
On the second-and-goal play, Bradford sophomore quarterback Nate Olson (16 carries, 34 yards, 100 passing yards) plowed to the goal line on a read-option play. He and Bowe said after the game that they thought Olson clearly broke the plane, but he was ruled down at the 1.
An illegal motion penalty made it third-and-goal from the 6, and Olson fired a slant to junior receiver Damarion Williams in the end zone that at first glance appeared to be a touchdown. But Tremper junior defensive back Lucas Mattioli — who had two second-half interceptions — got his hands on the ball and pulled it away.
After deliberation, the officials ruled that Mattioli had the ball before Williams went to the ground, resulting in an interception and a touchback.
While the Trojans (2-6, 1-5) came up with that takeaway, along with four others, it was the one they didn’t get that probably cost them the game.
On second-and-23 from his own 43 with less than 30 seconds left, Olson threw a pass to the right with no receivers in the area. The only ones there were Mattioli and Tremper junior linebacker Jake Korbakes. There was nobody between the two Trojans’ defenders and the end zone, but what should’ve been a game-winning pick-six instead somehow fell incomplete.
On the next play, Olson fumbled on a run up the middle, and Tremper recovered in a scrum at the Bradford 47.
With only 15 seconds left, however, there seemed to be no chance for Tremper — which had gained just seven first downs to that point — to move into scoring position.
Yet the Trojans did just that, as junior quarterback Ryan McGonegle (17-of-31, 172 yards) fired perfect strikes of 17 yards to junior Tyler Santi and 25 yards to junior Raymone Jones (seven catches, 80 yards) down the right sideline.
Jones stepped out of bounds at the Bradford 5 to stop the clock with 2 seconds left, and suddenly Tremper senior Justin Dierckens was lining up for a 22-yard field goal to win the game.
The conditions made for anything but a chip shot, though, and after Bradford called a timeout Dierckens never got the kick away when Tremper’s holder couldn’t get the ball down cleanly.
“I’d have to see the film of it,” McGranahan said. “I don’t know if it hit the ground right before the (hold) or if he just dropped it, I really don’t know. … It’s something we’ve worked on a thousand times and when (we) really needed it, it didn’t come to fruition.”
Bradford got the ball to start overtime from the Tremper 25, per high school overtime rules, and this time marched five plays for a touchdown.
Olson stretched the ball over the goal line for a 3-yard scoring run, and finally points were on the board.
“It felt great,” Olson said. “The O-line made their blocks, everybody made their blocks. I was fortunate enough to just make it into the end zone.”
Fitting for this game, senior kicker Hugo Villalobos missed the extra point, but the Red Devils’ defense made sure that wouldn’t matter on Tremper’s overtime possession.
On first down from the 25, sophomore defensive lineman Jordan Rudden busted through and dropped junior Mitchel Schwartz for a 3-yard loss.
After two incompletions, the Trojans faced fourth-and-13 from the 28 with the game on the line. McGonegle never had a chance, as the Red Devils came storming through off the snap, and blitzing senior defensive back Cole Ramos wrapped up McGonegle for the sack to end the game.
The Red Devils ran to their sideline in celebration, a win in hand no matter how ugly.
“We’re so young,” Bowe said. “It’s good for young kids to win. And (Tremper is), too. They’re so young. I joked today with somebody that the first one to 20 would definitely win, but if you’d have scored 10 tonight, that was a lot.”
Turned out that six was enough.