TITUSVILLE — Eisenhower’s football season ended Saturday when the Knights lost 28-14 to Reynolds in the District 10 1A championship game at Titusville High School.
The Raiders were tied 14-14 at halftime and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to capture their third straight title.
“I’m just so proud of this team,” said Eisenhower coach Jim Penley. “We came into this game knowing we were playing the state No. 4 and we were tied in the fourth quarter. We did such a good job of limiting their big plays, but when they got two of them in the fourth quarter, it was just too much for us to absorb.
“(Reynolds) played like they deserved to be ranked as one of the best teams in the state.”
Unsurprisingly, Stau Jayden Wagner played a big part, rushing for 255 yards with 37 carries and three touchdowns. For the season, the senior mustered 2,530 yards on the ground and posted 35 TDs.
The win took the Raiders’ record to 11-1, while the Knights finished their stellar season 11-1.
Eisenhower used the momentum early, however, as the Raiders fumbled with the Knights 2-yard line and Garrett Jensen recovered for a touchback in the end zone. But defensive end Mikey Beaver was injured at the game – he was the first of two Eisenhower players to sit out – and did not return to the game.
The Reynolds’ defense forced Eisenhower to punt and Senior Benji Bauer launched a career-high 64-yard boot that pinned the Raiders to their own 4-yard line. The Knights’ defense stood upright and forced a punt that traveled just 20 yards, giving Eisenhower good field position on the Reynolds’ 32-yard line.
The Knights passed to their workhorse Bauer, who worked his way to the 13-yard line. On the second play of the second quarter, junior fullback Tucker Lindell grabbed a handoff and dragged a pair of Raider defenders into the end zone for a touchdown. Cole Kellogg’s extra point kick was good and Eisenhower led 7-0.
Reynolds took over on his own 27-yard line and needed four minutes to score thanks to Braydon McCloskey’s TD on a 2-yard sneak. The PAT kick wasn’t good, leaving the score 7-6 in the Knights’ favour.
It took Eisenhower just 16 seconds to extend his lead as Bauer took a handoff, sliced to the left, found a hole and rushed 65 yards into the end zone to score the goal. Kellogg’s kick was good, and the Knights led 14-6 in the first half with 6:59 to go.
Eisenhower’s defense stood up and forced a punt, but a rough-the-punter penalty on the Knights gave the Raiders a choice of punting again or taking the results of the game. Reynolds chose the latter and pinned Eisenhower at his own 16-yard line.
The Knights were forced into a third and long, and in third place quarterback Shawn Pascuzzi was intercepted for the third time this season when Reynolds free safety Haydin McLaughlin made a dive catch of Pascuzzi’s pass to put the Raiders in a good field position on Die The Knights 39-yard line.
Reynolds took over at the half with 1:41 and running back Jaylen Wagner needed a play to score on a 29-yard run down the touchline. The two-point conversion attempt was good as McCloskey narrowly crossed the goal line to level the game 14-14 at halftime.
The third quarter was a defensive struggle as neither team threatened to score, but in the first game of the fourth quarter Wagner found Paydirt on a 43-yard run down the left touchline for a touchdown. McCloskey was again successful with the two-point conversion to put the Raiders 22-14 ahead with 11:46 remaining in the game.
The Raiders forced a punt from Eisenhower, and Bauer folded out with a booming 50-yarder that pinned the Raiders to their own 3-yard line. Reynolds used Wagner to work his way down, and on a fourth and 7, with just 2.35 left in the game, McCloskey connected with Haydin McLaughlin on a 31-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick wasn’t good leaving the score at 28-14 in what would prove to be the final score.
The respect both teams had for one another was evident when an emotional Eisenhower team stayed on the field as the Raiders received the championship trophy, a show of class and respect not lost on Reynolds head coach Josh Mull.
“That’s a Heckuva team over there,” he said. “It’s a shame that a team had to lose today. Our team has nothing but respect for them. They came in ready, they wanted it. We only had a few more breaks than they did. Hats off to this team and Jim Penley and his program. They are great and I know that one day they will be district champions.”
Known Penley: “We hope that the Underclassmen team can take all the lessons learned this season and continue to grow next year. We are bringing back a lot of starters and talent and we hope and plan to work on being here again next year.”
A shining moment for the Knights came when Bauer, who finished the afternoon for 106 yards on 14 carries, broke the 2,000-yard rushing mark for the season on his 65-yard TD run.
“It was an amazing achievement for Benji to cross 2,000 yards in one season and become Eisenhower’s career rushing leader and set numerous records throughout his career, but that’s a real team effort. One of the best offensive lines in school history and a talented lineup of players all going down to form blocks allows one individual to accomplish so much. It’s just another example of how close this team is and how family they will always be.”