In a must-win game to keep their season alive, the Aberdeen Bobcats picked a good time to play one of its best games.
Aberdeen made the clutch plays down the stretch to come away with a 16-14 victory over Shelton on Friday in Aberdeen, forcing a three-way tiebreaker for the final two league playoff spots in the process.
“The bottom line is we play really tough at home,” Aberdeen head coach Todd Bridge said. “We talked about what would ever happen if anybody ever walked into a real Bobcats’ cage. Bad things man, bad things.”
Aberdeen (5-3 overall, 4-3 2A Evergreen) and Shelton (4-5, 3-3) both had opportunities to score in the first half.
The Highclimbers’ took the opening drive into the Bobcats red zone, but a fumble by Shelton’s Bradley Eleton was recovered by the Bobcats at the 8-yard line, thwarting the scoring threat.
In the second quarter, an Aberdeen drive penetrated deep into Shelton territory, but stalled out when quarterback Kale Goings’ fourth-down pass intended for receiver Isiah Watson was intercepted by Highclimbers defensive back Tobyn Dudley at the Shelton 1-yard line.
On the following series, Aberdeen defensive back Aidan Watkins gave the Bobcats a golden opportunity to score when he blasted Shelton wide receiver Gabriel Menefee, knocking the ball free. Watkins scooped the ball up and returned it to the Shelton 5-yard line.
A few plays later and with no timeouts, Aberdeen was forced to spike the ball to stop the clock on third down, setting up a fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Goings took the snap, rolled to his left and found Watson open in the end zone for what appeared to be a go-ahead touchdown on the final play of the first half, but the points were taken off the scoreboard as Aberdeen was penalized for having too many players on the field.
Aberdeen had two more tries at putting points on the board before the half, with a Goings incompletion being called back due to a defensive holding call followed by an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal from the 11 as the half expired.
Though the first 24 minutes resembled last week’s Aberdeen loss to Rochester — with the Bobcats getting red-zone chances but struggling to score — the Bobcats turned it around in the second half.
Aberdeen took the opening drive of the third quarter 70 yards — mostly by feeding the ball to 1,000-yard rusher Jeremy Sawyer — and scored when the junior running back broke loose through the teeth of the Highclimbers’ defense for a 26-yard touchdown.
Jakob Bowers’ successful run on the extra-point gave Aberdeen an 8-0 lead.
Shelton responded by going 67 yards on 12 plays, scoring on a 2-yard run from running back Jayden Fuller with 2:34 left in the quarter.
With the Bobcats leading 8-7 late in the third quarter, Aberdeen’s bruising Wing-T-style rushing attack began to pay dividends as running lanes widened as the Shelton defense began to lose steam.
Aberdeen drove 80 yards on 14 plays — including a 22-yard run from Trey Anderson and a Goings-to-Watson completion for 16 yards — scoring when Sawyer got around the right edge for a 3-yard touchdown and 14-7 lead.
Goings ran in the all-important two-point conversion to put the Bobcats up by two scores at 16-7 with 7:32 remaining.
Shelton, which outgained Aberdeen 269-255 in total yardage, drove right back downfield and into Aberdeen’s red zone. But a holding penalty followed by an incompletion forced a Shelton to attempt a 28-yard field goal. Shelton kicker Brendon Keizar’s attempt missed and Aberdeen took over on downs.
Six plays later, Goings shanked a punt out of bounds and Shelton took over at the Bobcats 23-yard line.
Eleton punched it in four plays later for a 4-yard touchdown and — after Keizar’s PAT — Shelton trailed 16-14 with 1:13 left.
Shelton’s last hope relied upon grabbing an onside kick, but Keizar’s onside attempt hit the back of a Shelton player and failed to go 10 yards.
Aberdeen was able to get into the victory formation and run out the clock for the victory.
“That’s as close to flawless as we played since the Mark Morris game,” Aberdeen head coach Todd Bridge said, referencing the Bobcats 50-16 win back on Sept. 10. “When you only make four bonehead mistakes you are probably going to win the game.”
Shelton fumbled the ball four times — twice on special-teams returns — with Aberdeen recovering three of them.
“Those turnovers were really costly,” Bridge said. “It got our defense off the field and allowed our offense to solve the puzzle.”
The Bobcats benefitted by eight Shelton penalties for 80 yards and didn’t commit a single fumble.
“All week long we focused on not wanting to go home, never wanting to quit, never wanting to give up and out here it just showed,” Goings said of the lead-up to the victory. “All you can say is it’s a good win.”
Aberdeen rushed for 222 yards as a team, with Sawyer carrying 26 times for 110 yards.
Bowers added 51 yards on 11 carries while Anderson had 55 on seven rushes as Aberdeen’s conditioning and punishing rushing style fatigued the Highclimbers defense, particularly in the fourth quarter.
“It’s all about the conditioning we’ve had,” Goings said, adding the team had been running laps around the field over the past three weeks. “We just wore them down and no one was in the box, so we just kept running it up the middle.”
Shelton quarterback Mason Goos was 14-for-22 for 114 yards to lead the Highclimbers.
Goings was 2-for-6 for 33 yards, completing both passes to Watson.
The victory sets up a “Kansas” tiebreaker between Aberdeen, Rochester and Shelton to decide the final two playoff spots in the 2A Evergreen League. The teams will compete against one another in an overtime format scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in Centralia.
Aberdeen won a Kansas tiebreaker two seasons ago and many of the Bobcats are more than familiar with what it entails.
“The main thing is the kids just have to breathe,” Bridge said of playing in a tiebreaker. “Any snap and the game can be over. If they score and you fumble on the first play, you’re done, it’s over.”
“We know what’s happening and we know how it works,” Goings said. “We are going to go up there and try to kick some booty.”
With the win, Aberdeen secured its second winning season in the past 25 years, joining the 2006 team that went 5-4.
“It’s a tribute to our kids and all their hard work,” Bridge said.