VICTORIA — The satisfaction of winning the 2014 Eight-Man Division II state championship was not enough for the Victoria High School football team. The motivation to avenge what happened 12 weeks earlier — a road loss to eventual Division I champion Central Plains — replaced the glorious feeling of hoisting a state championship trophy.
The road to the Knights’ goal of keeping the loss column clean this season began as they had dreamed since last season ended; with an avengeful 16-12 victory on their home field as the defending state champions on Friday night.
“I went into this game hoping we would play well and just hoping for a good football game,” said Victoria coach Doug Oberle. “I don’t think we played a perfect game. I was really proud of our guys. We got ourselves in some bad positions, didn’t take care of the ball as well as we would’ve liked to take care of the ball. I made some stupid decisions throughout the game; I asked the coaches one time to punch me because I couldn’t believe some of the dumb stuff I did. My kids made up for it. ... They just found a way.”
The Knights jumped ahead 16-6 with 5:03 to play in the first half and were held scoreless for the final 27 minutes of the clash of last year’s state champions. However, a stout run defense held the Oilers to 69 rushing yards and allowed just 4 of 10 third-down conversions, despite being on the field for 36 minutes.
With under one minute to play in the first half, Victoria was forced to punt after a defensive hold by the Oilers. The snap failed to find a Knight and instead resulted in the Oilers taking over at the 12-yard line, but Oberle took the blame for putting his team in a bad spot.
“Remember when I said I did some stupid things tonight? That was just dumb on my part. ... I put my kids in a bad spot,” Oberle said.
With time winding down, the Oilers’ coaching staff instructed senior quarterback Braeden Crites to spike the ball to stop time with under 10 seconds. However, Crites — who had to play without his versatile senior receiver, Hunter Ingham — appeared to take a knee. The refs deemed time would have ran out and signaled for halftime with the Oilers in range of paydirt.
“We get lucky there at the end of the half (on) a controversial play, at best” Oberle said. “We’ll see it one way and they’ll see it another way. I thought our guys did a good job of bending and not breaking there.”
With the four-point difference in the final result, the play very well might have denied the Oilers of potential back-to-back perfect seasons.
On the game’s first drive, the Knights put together an impressive 6-minute, 32-second drive capped by a 3-yard scamper by sophomore Cooper Pfanenstiel to put the Knights up 8-0 after the conversion.
The Oilers quickly responded on a 3-yard score by Jacob Wranken, but a stop by Pfanenstiel left the Knights grasping to a two-point lead.
After a turnover on downs, senior quarterback/defensive back Brady Dinkel picked off his first of two passes from Crites and returned it 33 yards. After an exchange in possessions, senior running back Lane Kisner punched in the second and final Knights’ touchdown with 5:03 remaining until half.
Prior to the botched punt that nearly handed the Oilers points, the Knights faced a third-and-6. Dinkel took the ensuing run 21 yards before a loss of yardage forced Oberle to punt.
The opportunities were open for Central Plains in the second half, but the Knights’ defense denied the Oilers time and time again. A fumble gave the Knights the ball, which resulted in a long 3rd-and-17 conversion from senior tight end Taylor Corley to the Oiler 18.
“The defense was amazing,” said Dinkel, who rushed for 89 yards on 17 attemptd. “There’s no way we’re winning that game without our defense. Defense stepped up a ton.”
Later in the third, Crites sent a laser to sophomore wide receiver Alex Barton, who came down and thought he was in the end zone before being taken down by a group of Knights at the 4-yard line. Crites eventually threw his second TD of the night.
On the ensuing possession, the Oilers recovered a fumble and sucked the life out of the packed house at Victoria High School. Crites drove the team down the field and was forced to go for a fourth-down conversion. After escaping the arms of multiple Knights, Crites unleashed a pass that bounced off an Oilers’ hands and hit the turf to end the drive.
“(That defensive stand) was crucial,” Oberle said. “... We bowed our backs a little bit and we stood up and made plays.”
With 3:17 to play, the Knights failed to convert a fourth-and-3 to hand the Oilers the ball with clock to work with. After one fourth-down conversion, the Knights were backed into their own territory with the Oilers looking for a score. When the lights shined brightest, Dinkel stole the show with his defense.
On first-and-15, the Oilers attempted a flea flicker that Dinkel batted to the ground near the goal-line. The next play, he again defended a pass from reaching and Oilers’ receiver — on a long third down, Central Plains picked up 15 yards before Dinkel met the Oiler at the sideline.
“It’s just another step towards our team goal for the end — a state championship,” Dinkel said. “It’s just a game, I guess.”
And after Week 1, the Knights’ winning-streak increases to 13 wins and leaves them as the lone eight-man team with a record to be perfect in chase of back-to-back titles.
“No question this was a big game, big win, and our message to them after the game was ‘This is just Week 1,’ “ Oberle said. “They need to keep their heads. We need to come to work next week. We need to understand that we’re gonna get everybody’s best.
“... This season is not even close to being over. It’s just begun and we need to continue to work.”