MAXWELL — Stapleton-McPherson County and Maxwell came into Friday afternoon’s battle at Maxwell with high expectations. Maxwell came into the game at 3-3, but the Wildcats’ three losses came against 7-0 Arapahoe, 5-1 Elm Creek and 5-1 Paxton. SMC entered the contest at 4-2, their losses coming against a 4-2 Overton team and 6-0 Hemmingford.
SMC held off a late Maxwell surge, taking the 18-12 win and improving their record to 5-2 on the season.
“This is a fantastic win,” said SMC coach Bill Cranston. “These kids have worked hard all season. They’ve always had it in them and I believe in them.
“We’ve got big things ahead of us and I’m really proud of these kids. I’m really proud the way they’ve turned this around. It’s their team and they’ve done a really good job this year.”
Maxwell had just tied the game at 12-12 with 8 minutes, 21 seconds to go in the third quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run by Brandon Fletcher. Tanner Vedder set up the score with a 48-yard scamper, beginning at his own 28 and ending on the SMC 4.
But the Cyclones came right back. SMC road the back of sophomore Luke Walz, going 53 yards in 15 plays, culminating in an Austin Starr to Ross Johnson 10-yard touchdown pass for the winning 18-12 margin.
Walz carried the ball 12 times, gaining 45 yards on the drive.
“Luke is a solid young player and when we needed someone to carry the rock for us he did it effectively — and we needed that,” Cranston said.
“We lost our starting running back and needed someone to come in and fill up, and Luke did a great job.”
Maxwell coach Ryan Jones said of Walz, “There has been a hundred of them there. They’re all studs and he just continues that name for Stapleton.
“He’s a tough kid and we got beat at our own game, which is very rare. SMC just lined it up in the power offense and we couldn’t stop it. That’s a little unsettling because we pride ourselves on that.
“But SMC is a good power football team. They have some good kids and good athletes, and they ran the ball hard and blocked well. That’s a recipe for a win.”
Maxwell would still have two more opportunities to tie or take the lead.
After stopping SMC short on the Maxwell 7 with 5:08 remaining in the game, the Wildcats put together a 9-play drive to the Cyclones 25.
But Taylor McKeeman’s pass attempt to Fletcher was intercepted by Austin Starr and returned to the 30.
The Wildcats forced the Cyclones to punt and punter Levi Peterson aimed one for the coffin corner, knocking it out inside the Maxwell one.
The Wildcats gave it one more try, with McKeeman completing a key third down and fourth down pass to Jaylon Sturdivant. But on fourth and 15 on the SMC 35, McKeeman’s pass completion to Drew Riggs came up short, turning the ball over to the Cyclones for the final time.
“They forced us to throw the ball way more than we like to,” said Jones. “They were taking away our power and our iso game, and their defensive ends were tough to block.
“When our counter game wasn’t working we had to throw a little more than we wanted to but I was just happy the way we fought. We fought till the final second there and came up a little bit short on that pass. Our guys played with a lot of heart — I thought.”
The SMC defense forced five Wildcats turnovers, four of which came early in the game.
“Especially early on in the game,” Jones commented on the Maxwell turnovers hurting the Wildcats cause. “That’s uncharacteristic as far as isos and dives, we were putting it on the ground. You’re not going to beat a good team when you have that many turnovers — that’s for sure.”
“Our defense has played like that all year,” Cranston said. “We’ve seen it since our first game and our defense continues to improve game after game.
“We have relied on our defense and they’ve come through time after time after time. We weren’t surprised it happened the way it did. We feel really good about our defense.”
After each team was held on their opening possession of the game, the Wildcats opened the scoring on a 13-yard run by Brandon Groseth with 3:45 to go in the first quarter.
The Cyclones answered right back though, as Trevor Hanna went 50 yards on the first play from scrimmage, just 12 seconds later.
SMC added six points in the second quarter on a 4-yard run by Logan Paben.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle but I’ll guarantee our kids will prepare this week and we’re going to play with a lot of energy and a lot of heart,” said Jones. “We still have an outside chance to get in at 3-5, but we’re probably going to need a big upset to make the playoffs, but that’s what we’re hoping for.”
SMC total offense — 236 yards;
Rushing — 222 yards - Walz 20-84; Hanna 3-57 1 TD; Paben 11-26 1 TD; Peterson 7-21; Starr 5-8; Amweg 4-6.
Passing 14 yards — Starr 2/5 14 yards 1 TD; Paben 0/1 1 int
Receiving - Johnson 1/1 10 yards 1 TD; Paxton 1/1 4 yards
Interceptions — Starr; Paxton; Walz. - Fumble recovery — Barnum; Seifer.
SMC (5-2) ..........................6 6 6 0 — 18
Maxwell (3-4)......................6 0 6 0 — 12
MAX: Brandon Groseth 13 run (PAT failed)
SMC: Trevor Hanna 50 run (PAT failed)
SMC: Logan Paben 4 run (PAT failed)
MAX: Brandon Fletcher 4 run (PAT failed)
SMC: Ross Johnson 10 pass from Austin Starr (PAT failed)