Knights come back, fall short of Blujays
By CONOR NICHOLL
BELOIT -- Victoria High School was undersized and inexperienced compared to Beloit/St. John's-Tipton in Saturday's Eight-Man Division II second-round playoff contest. The Knights had five seniors, but just three healthy ones, and a quarterback, sophomore Brady Dinkel, who had just started since Week 5.
The Blujays had seven seniors and junior quarterback Trey Dubbert, who had played significantly since his freshman year. Plus, St. John's-Tipton senior Luke Eilert proved a big matchup problem at 6-foot-4, 178 pounds.
However, Victoria played with its trademark grit and heart. The Knights, down 22-0 after the first half, scored 16 points in the second half. Victoria couldn't take the lead and lost, 22-16.
"Second half, I thought we came out and played hard," coach Doug Oberle said. "A lot of credit to St. John's-Beloit, they are a great team, well-coached. They played hard tonight. I am really, really proud of our guys. I'm really proud of these seniors, four years of blood, sweat and tears and I couldn't be more proud of them."
Victoria, without senior quarterback Sam Ottley (knee) and senior running back Clayton Roth (collarbone) for nearly all fall, finished the season at 10-1, a four-win improvement from 2012. St. John's-Tipton, 0-9 in 2010, moved to 11-0 and will travel to Wallace County for the sub-state championships game next week.
The Knights scored at the 8-minute, 11-second mark in the third quarter, then took advantage of a blocked punt to score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"There was doubt in everybody's mind, because of the way that Victoria came out in the second half," St. John's/Tipton coach Keith Kresin said. "We talked that they were going to punch us in the mouth, and we needed to respond to that. We didn't respond. The punt block was big for them."
Victoria had a chance at the end, but Dinkel threw an interception at the Blujay 35-yard line with 86 seconds remaining.
"Emotionally, they had everything going," Kresin said. "But we found a will just because we had a really strong heart and we stuck together as a team."
At a team dinner Friday, the Knights and coaching staff shaved their heads to honor Oberle's mother, Pauline, whose cancer returned. The gesture moved Oberle to tears when he recounted the moment postgame.
"These guys had a great year," Oberle said. "The whole community has done a great job of being there for me and my family, treated us very well, and I am very grateful and thankful for the community."
Victoria scored the game's first TD on a 59-yard run from Bryan Dome at the 6:23 mark of the first quarter, but the run was called back because of a block in the back penalty. Dome led Victoria with 20 carries for 91 yards.
"You just can't do that," Oberle said. "You can't have that in these types of ballgames. When you get to the playoffs, every mistake is magnified."
St. John's/Tipton took a 6-0 lead with 17 seconds left in the first quarter on a 22-yard pass from Dubbert to Luke Eilert, who caught the ball over 126-pound Joe Dortland.
"We are vertically challenged," Oberle said. "...The quarterback did a great job of putting it on him. Pitch and catch. We were there at times to make plays, we just didn't make plays."
Then, the Blujays moved the lead to 14-0 on a 5-yard run from senior Connor Eilert with 4:47 before halftime. Luke Eilert set up the score with a 15-yard catch.
Less than three minutes later, sophomore Parker Gates scored on a 64-yard pass when Dubbert lofted it over the secondary.
"There is no excuse for that. As a coach, I have got to do a better job, make sure we are in position to make those plays," Oberle said.
Luke Eilert had four catches for 77 yards and a TD. Dubbert completed 8 of 18 passes for 145 yards and two scores.
"Luke is my favorite target," Dubbert said. "He has got huge hands, which makes him easy to catch. With him being able to jump over everybody, it makes it a lot easier for me to lay it in there for him because he can go up and get the ball."
On the first drive of the second half, Victoria scored on a 16-yard pass from Dinkel to senior Tanner Hobbs.
"We went in the locker room, and said we were going to step it up in the second half," sophomore Eric McAlonan said. "Get after it. They got after it the first half, we brought it the second half."
The Knights' defense kept it a two-score game with a goal line stand from the 2-yard line. With 50 seconds in the third quarter, McAlonan blocked Dubbert's punt and Victoria recovered at the Blujay 7. Dome eventually scored from a yard out.
"I knew we needed to get a stop," McAlonan said. "I kind of ran through someone and then dove."
Victoria's defense held twice in the fourth quarter. Dome knocked down two passes - one in the end zone, another at the 3 - on one possession.
"I just knew I had to make a play," Dome said. "I just read the quarterback. I saw where he was going to throw it, and that's where I went."
With 2:39 left, Dubbert threw incomplete on fourth down at the Knights 17. Victoria took over with a chance to win, but had just one timeout. It ran six plays before the turnover.
"We got a little momentum going in the second half," Oberle said.
"We tried. We came up a little short."