Monarchs play better in loss
By AUSTIN COLBERT
ELLSWORTH -- There was definitely disappointment in the eyes of the Thomas More Prep-Marian football players following a 29-25 loss at Ellsworth on Friday.
But there was also something deeper, a feeling that might end up being far more important than the score of one game.
"Gosh dang it, they fought their hearts out and they played a heck of a football game," TMP coach John Montgomery said. "There were guys with tears in their eyes as we huddled up. That shows me how much they truly care. This game has zero weight on our conference, this has zero weight on our ability to make the playoffs, yet they care so much about each and every opportunity."
Montgomery called Friday's loss the "most complete game" the Monarchs have played all season.
TMP (1-3) led 19-7 going into the third quarter of the Bearcats' homecoming game, and had its share of opportunities to put the game away.
The difference came on the feet of Ellsworth junior quarterback Takota Anderson, who ran for 257 yards on 20 carries with four touchdowns, three of which were 25 yards or longer.
"Basically Takota, our quarterback, kind of took that game over," Ellsworth coach Brent Schneider said. "They started making adjustments there, just attacking our motion. So we started doing stuff away from it, and Takota had a special game."
TMP had plenty to be proud of as well, showing it has made progress following losses to Clay Center and Larned the last two weeks by a combined 63-15. The Monarchs have had trouble finishing drives and avoiding early holes, neither of which were a problem against Ellsworth (3-1).
TMP executed its opening drive to perfection. The Monarchs went 81 yards on 13 plays, 10 of which were runs, and took more than six minutes off the clock. Junior running back Nick Schmidt finished it with a 7-yard touchdown run.
"That gave us so much momentum for the entire game," TMP senior wide receiver Jeffrey Richmeier said. "We are definitely making progress. We scored today and that was great. We were able to push the ball in and do what we need to accomplish."
On the other side of the ball, giving up big plays has been an issue for the Monarch defense. On the third offensive snap for Ellsworth, Anderson made his first big play by going 48 yards for a touchdown.
"We couldn't execute on tackles," TMP senior lineman Adam Schibi said.
"We'd read it wrong and dive at ankles. He is a really good quarterback. He can shift and make plays off of anything. It's pretty hard to be able to get ahold of him."
Both defenses stiffened and were able to keep the other offenses at bay the remainder of the half. It looked as if TMP would go into the locker room trailing by a point, when senior Ryan Mayorga intercepted a forced throw by Anderson and took it 46 yards the other way for a score with only 18.7 seconds until half.
A failed 2-point conversion made it 12-7 TMP at the break.
TMP opened the second half just as it started the first. The running game led a 76-yard, 15-play drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock and ended with a 6-yard Schmidt touchdown run.
The Monarchs would carry a 19-7 lead into the fourth quarter when Anderson took over the game for the Bearcats.
"I told him, 'I'm not going to tell you to back off. That's not your game. I want you to do the things you do,' " Schneider said of his quarterback. "And I could say he did that."
Anderson capped off a short drive with a 25-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to cut the lead to 19-14. The momentum was on Ellsworth's side until a major mistake put the game in doubt for the Bearcats.
A simple bubble screen went awry when Schibi stepped into the backfield and jumped in front of Anderson's pass. He bobbled it for a second before getting possession and outran Anderson for the 58-yard interception return for a touchdown.
That gave TMP a 25-14 lead with 9:39 to play.
"We talked screens all week," Montgomery said. "We worked screen drills all week. And there you have it pay off for him. I couldn't be happier for the play he was able to make."
However, the lead proved to be too little with the big play ability of Anderson, who also showed he has a short memory. Anderson led Ellsworth right back down the field on the next drive with runs of 13 and 27 yards in the process. Anderson's 5-yard touchdown run and a successful 2-point conversion cut the TMP lead to 25-22 with 7:01 to play.
TMP was able to drive the ball into Ellsworth territory on its next possession, but back-to-back runs netted zero yards and ended with a turnover on downs. A 24-yard run by Anderson got the Bearcats deep into Monarch territory, and two plays later his 26-yard touchdown run would prove to be the difference.
"He's their best athlete. He certainly got some things going when he got into the open field in the second half," Montgomery said of Anderson. "We just struggled tremendously being able to make tackles in the open field."
The Monarchs got the ball back with 96 seconds to play, facing an 81-yard field. A Mayorga flea flicker attempt missed its target on the first play, and three plays later junior quarterback Max Megaffin would underthrow junior tight end Cameron Fouts and had his pass intercepted by Bearcat freshman defensive back Ian Trapp.
Ellsworth outscored TMP 22-6 in the fourth quarter.
"They left it all out on the field. The close ones are the ones that hurt the most," Montgomery said. "I absolutely saw a tremendous amount of improvement. ... This was the most complete game I feel we've played all season."
Schmidt led the Monarchs with 92 yards rushing. Megaffin was 14 of 23 passing for 161 yards. It should also be noted that TMP junior kicker Jack You missed the game because of a concussion suffered in a Monarch soccer game earlier this week.
TMP will host La Crosse (4-0) Friday at 7 p.m. at Lewis Field Stadium.