VICTORIA — Grant Schoenrock admittedly went through the early-game jitters that could be expected from anyone facing the situation the Victoria freshman found himself in.
Schoenrock was tasked with making his starting debut at quarterback with the Knights’ season on the line against Leoti-Wichita County after first-stringer Cooper Windholz was sidelined with a knee injury he suffered last week.
“It was quite nerve wracking to begin with,” Schoenrock said. “But as I started getting into the game, it became more natural habit. Just back to the basics.”
It didn't take long for Schoenrock to find his comfort zone. He rallied his team from a 14-0 deficit, and Victoria’s upperclassmen took over late with key plays down the stretch for a 34-28 win over Wichita County in Thursday night's Eight-Man Division I bracket contest at Victoria.
Schoenrock finished with 144 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 15 carries.
“We knew early on (that Windholz would be out),” Victoria coach Doug Oberle said. “Grant’s a kid that’s got some ability, we just got to put him in a position to be successful, and sometimes I did, sometimes I did not.”
After trailing 28-26, the Knights scored the game-winning touchdown with 3:53 left after senior Tyler Knoles found the edge and scored from four yards out on a fourth-and-3 play.
“We put the ball in (Knoles’) hands and he made a great run,” Oberle said. “I thought up front, we sealed the corner, which we struggled with. I thought Josh Schulte did a good job of setting the edge and (Jacob Wellbrock) blocking.”
The Knights (7-2) will play at St. Francis (9-0) in the regional round next week Friday.
Wichita County (6-3), which lost starting quarterback Kayde Rietzke to a hand injury in the second quarter, had two chances late to regain the lead, but Victoria came up with a pair of fourth-down stops.
Senior Wyatt Dreiling applied pressure to Wichita County backup quarterback Ronald Michel to force an incompletion on fourth down with 1:55 left. The Indians got the ball back with just over a minute left but again were denied after Victoria stuffed a run on fourth down at the Indians’ 34.
“We were resilient and the kids got a little moxie,” Oberle said.
Despite giving up several big plays and losing track of Wichita County 6-foot-2, 215-pound tight end Sonnie Altman in the first half, Oberle credited Victoria’s defense for stepping up late.
“These guys can play good defense,” Oberle said. “We can be a good defensive team if we just do our jobs.”
Dreiling supplied the biggest defensive play, ripping the ball out of the hands of a Wichita County ball carrier and going 14 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 20 with 2:32 left in the third quarter.
“It just kind of fell in my hands and I went with it,” Dreiling said. “It happened so fast.”
An interception from Knoles helped set up Schoenrock’s third touchdown, a 27-yard run that gave the Knights a 26-20 lead with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
Victoria fumbled early in the fourth quarter for its fifth turnover of the night and the Indians capitalized with a 41-yard touchdown pass on a screen to Teagan Bishop with nine minutes left, but the Knights answered with Knoles’ score.
Wichita County scored on its first two possessions, getting on the board with a 1-yard run by Jesse Gardner and pushing the lead to 14-0 after a 14-yard TD pass to Altman, who also caught the two-point conversion.
But Schoenrock’s touchdown runs of 35 and 41 yards made it a 14-14 game at the break.
Schoenrock said he found out Monday night he would be getting the start.
“From then on, I was focused and ready to go,” he said.
Dreiling said the Knights rallied around the injury to Windholz.
“We were playing for our first-string quarterback that got hurt last week,” he said. “We did it for him.”
Michel went 4 of 13 though the air for 119 yards and one touchdown and threw two interceptions, with Knoles and Walker Braun each picking off a pass for Victoria. Rietzke was 6 of 11 from 30 yards with a TD before leaving with the injury.
Jayvon Pruitt rushed for 48 yards on 17 carries for Victoria.
Oberle said he’s looking for the Knights to break their habit of starting slowly next week against St. Francis.
“We don’t start a game,” Oberle said. “We’re absolutely horrible in every first quarter of every game we play. That’s a problem. We finally figure it out that we have to get off the ball, get off blockers and tackle. We just can’t continue to make these silly mistakes.
“We were able to get out of here tonight, and I’m happy about it. There are no style points this time of year, we just got to win.”