NEOLA, Iowa — For a football program hoping to be on the rise, Tri-Center just checked off another big accomplishment.
A comeback that rivals any in school history.
The Trojans fell behind 18-0 and trailed 24-7 before scoring 27 unanswered points to upend Panorama 34-24 Friday night at the Melvin B. Rogers Athletic Complex.
“I told the boys tonight that we didn’t win the game in the fourth quarter,” T-C coach John Tiarks said. “We won it back in June, we won it going to team camp in July and lifting weights in January.
“Just a great win for the program.”
Getting the brisk wind to start the second quarter certainly helped start the Trojan rally against their Iowa Class 1-A, District 8 foe. So did a few defensive tweaks at halftime. But the home team also took control in the trenches, running 35 plays in the second half to the Panthers’ 20.
With Tri-Center trailing 24-20 at halftime, the Trojans’ Jon Reed recovered a successful onside kick to open the third quarter. The Trojans then marched 48 yards on eight straight running plays, capped by junior Ben Wellman’s 6-yard run into the end zone to take the lead.
Wellman stuffed Panorama running back Tyler Hein on a fourth-and-3 to turn the ball back over to Tri-Center before the teams traded punts.
The Trojans took control in the final quarter. They trekked 88 yards on 15 plays to open the quarter, grabbing a 34-24 advantage and leaving 5:37 for the run-first Panthers.
The drive stayed alive when a Trojans false-start penalty negated a fumble on fourth-and-1 at the Panorama 25. On fourth-and-6, T-C quarterback Britton Barrier sprinted 19 yards to pick up the first down.
Panorama promptly fumbled on its first play from scrimmage down 10 points. When it got the ball back with only a few minutes remaining, T-C junior Ty Jarrett intercepted quarterback Garrett Mleynek to all but seal matters.
Tiarks said the win was especially sweet considering the Panthers squashed his club 60-13 to open postseason play a year ago.
“Their offensive and defensive lines were just owning us early in the game,” Tiarks said. “We were really motivated to play these guys. It’s been 300-and-some days of remembering.”
Barrier sparked the early portion of the comeback in the second quarter, scoring three touchdowns on runs of 10, 44 and 6 yards. His 111 yards on the ground were second to senior Doug Hoke, who churned out 145 on 27 carries.
“We didn’t start out like we wanted to, but the coaches are talking all the time about, ‘Next play, next play, next play,’ ” Barrier said. “We never lost belief and came out and played hard the whole four quarters.”
Facing a stiff south wind didn’t help the Trojans’ cause in the first quarter. Their first two possessions ended in 13-yard punts that Panorama quickly converted into touchdowns.
T-C’s third punt was blocked by Wilson Sorlozano, which set up Hein’s 2-yard touchdown run — his second touchdown of the quarter.
With the Trojans down 18-0, Barrier was intercepted by Mason McNeill on the ensuing drive.
But the Trojans’ defense held for the first time, turning back the Panthers on downs 14 yards away from the goal line.
Getting the ball back with the wind to start the second quarter, Tri-Center pieced together a 15-play trek that finished when Barrier scored from 10 yards out on a bootleg left.
Panorama answered with a 10-play success of its own, capped when Luke Webner sprinted in from 25 yards out.
Undeterred, the Trojans ended the final three minutes of the half with a flourish. Barrier ran in from 44 yards out on an option keeper, and the QB scored again on a short run after his team forced a Panther three-and-out.
Tri-Center outgained its counterpart 370-282, mainly on rushing attacks. The teams combined to throw 18 passes, with the Panthers completing three and T-C two. Each quarterback had an interception.
“Nothing amounts to this,” Barrier said. “We had something to prove today, and we did it.”
The victory helps the Trojans put a stranglehold on the No. 2 seed in the district. It was also a highlighted game for Tiarks and Co., who wanted to prove they could beat IKM-Manning, St. Albert or Panorama as underdogs this fall.
They finally got their win — and in dramatic fashion.
“For our program to take the next step, we had to take at least one of these three games,” Tiarks said. “We think we’ve got the makeup of a team that can do some damage in the playoffs.”
Panorama (5-3,3-2) .................. 18 6 0 0—24
At Tri-Center (6-2, 4-1) .................. 0 20 7 7—34
P: Tyler Hein 1 run (kick failed)
P: Luke Webner 5 run (conversion failed)
P: Hein 2 run (conversion failed)
TC: Britton Barrier 10 run (Devin Heinen kick)
P: Webner 25 run (conversion failed)
TC: Barrier 44 run (Heinen kick)
TC: Barrier 6 run (kick blocked)
TC: Ben Wellman 6 run (Heinen kick)
TC: Wellman 3 run (Heinen kick)
RUSHING: P, Tyler Hein 21-148, Chase Hennen 1-(-5), Luke Webner 5-38, Garrett Mleynek 11-62. TC, Doug Hoke 27-145, Loren Williams 8-28, Ben Wellman 18-69, Britton Barrier 12-111.
PASSING: P, Mleynek 3-11-1, 39 yards. TC, Barrier 2-7-1, 17 yards.
RECEIVING: P, Hennen 2-31, Mason McNeill 1-8. TC, Williams 1-12, No. 83 1-5.