DIGHTON — So what if the temperature at the end of the game was only 17 degrees.
It was a happy Dighton team that held aloft a plaque as the eight-man, division II state quarterfinal winner as the Hornets pulled off a tough 44-36 win over Otis-Bison on their home turf — frozen tundra, if you will.
When Dalton Hoffman intercepted a pass in the end zone in the waning moments, it was one of the greatest moments in Dighton football history.
The senior, one of only nine players on the Hornets squad, ripped away a pass from Anton Foust. If Otis-Bison scored, they were a two-point conversion away from tying sending it into overtime.
Instead, Dighton ran out the clock and celebrated the win as the Hornets advance to next week’s semifinal game at Osborne.
Incidentally, Hoffman’s twin brother Blair had just completed a passing touchdown a minute earlier.
Leading 38-36 and facing 4th-and-13 at Otis-Bison’s 24-yard line, Hoffman scrambled to his right, looking for a receiver.
Instead, he found Cougar defenders chasing him. He ducked under one, ran ahead a couple of yards, then found himself grabbed around the ankles.
Falling to the ground, he heaved a high-arcing pass into the end zone, and behind two Cougar defenders waited David Cramer.
The 5-11 sophomore leaped from behind the defenders and came down with the miracle catch, giving his team a 44-36 lead.
The conversion attempt failed, giving Otis-Bison, the state’s fifth-ranked team, a final shot.
The Cougars ran six plays, getting down to Dighton’s 21 with 31 seconds to play. They spiked the ball to stop the clock, then ran the fateful pass play to the end zone that ended their season and kept the Dighton Nine alive for at least one more week.
Understandably emotional after talking to his team following the win, head coach Ken Simon struggled to find the right words to convey the meaning of this win.
“It’s a testament to the toughness of these guys,” he said. “I’m so proud of them with what they’ve been able to accomplish. Every day it’s a grind with nine guys. It gets frustrating, but we just stick it out and we prepare hard every week. It showed on the field tonight.”
Otis-Bison struck first when Foust broke away for a 73-yard scoring run, the only points of the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, though, Dighton got on the board when Blair Hoffman found Marcus Rowe for a short pass that turned into a 53-yard score.
A 20-yard pass play gave the Cougars a 14-6 lead, but Blair Hoffman scored from two yards and later found Cramer for a 4-yard strike, sandwiching scores around a Cougar touchdown to go into halftime down 26-22.
They took a 30-22 lead at 7:03 in the third when Rowe caught his second touchdown pass from two yards out.
Foust closed the gap to start the fourth with a 9-yard run to get his team within 30-28.
But on Dighton’s next series, they killed a lot of clock with a 12-play drive that consume almost six minutes, ending on a pitch play to Dalton Hoffman and a 38-28 lead with 5:17 to play.
The Hornets defense nearly stopped the Cougars on 4th-and-six on the next series before two big plays got the visitors within 38-36 before the last-minute heroics of the undermanned Dighton squad.
.“We showed a great of toughness getting this win, beating a great team,” Simon said. “What a great football game. We played against one of the best 8-man teams in the state right there, and one of the best 8-man players I’ve ever seen in Anton Foust. He was tough to stop, and we didn’t stop him, but we made enough plays to get it done here.”
The final scoring play?
“It always pays to have a little luck on your side,” he laughed.