Thanks to another monster outing from Shawn Bryan, Skyline downed Strafford Friday night in a backandforth, 35-28 thriller … but it almost wasn’t enough.
Despite getting four touchdowns and 289 yards from scrimmage from its doeverything running back, the Tigers found themselves in trouble late in the fourth quarter following a costly redzone fumble.
A 60-yard Mason Foley run helped Strafford quickly drive into Skyline territory. Needing a touchdown to tie, the Indians worked themselves to a 4th-and-8 from the Tigers’ 24-yard line.
Heading into the season, Skyline had never won a game on Strafford’s home field.
It took Justin Sons a single play to throw that stat out the window.
Sons broke through the line, collected Skyline’s biggest sack of the season and turned away Strafford’s lastgasp attempt.
After watching 17 starters graduate last year, the senior defensive lineman entered the season as the lone returning starter in his class.
“I was screaming at everyone,” Sons said. “We knew what we had to do. We get that stop, and we win the game. All I had on my mind was ‘I have this teamÍ¾ I’ve got to make this play. I need to make this tackle, and the game’s won.”
The big moment wasn’t lost on Skyline head coach Brandon Shelby.
“This game meant a lot to these seniors,” Shelby said. “You could tell that one of these guys was going to make a big play for us. Justin has been through the fires and has been through the wars with us. He came up with a great play on fourth down.”
While the defense came up with the big stop at the end of the game, it was Bryan carrying the load for Skyline’s offense.
After scoring twice in the first half, the Tigers went to the senior running back repeatedly down the stretch. Bryan finished the game with four touchdowns to go with his 33-256 yards rushing and 36 yards receiving (both catches went for scores). Trevor Russell added 116 yards on the ground for Skyline.
Bryan was quick to praise his offensive line for a dominant performance on the evening.
“Credit the big guys up front,” Bryan said. “Whenever you don’t get touched for the first two, three and four yards, it’s hard not to make plays whenever you aren’t getting hit.”
Bryan’s success on the ground allowed Skyline to chew up the clock, as well, keeping Strafford’s offense on the sidelines.
“Late in the first half, my coaches were all on the headphones saying, ‘Shawn’s running angry tonight. At halftime, we got the guys set up with what we’re going to do. When he’s running mad and running angry, it means something, so let’s keep feeding him there," Shelby said. "That’s who we are, and that’s who we want to be. We’re going to wear on you.”
The Tigers opened up the second half with a 15-play, 87-yard scoring drive that ate up over half of the quarter. After Strafford answered with a quick touchdown from Wyatt Maples, Skyline went on a second lengthy drive.
In a back-and-forth scoring affair, Shelby pointed to the importance of clock control.
“That first drive in the second half was really key for us,” Shelby said. “We took up almost eight minutes doing what we do. When we can get teams into that kind of front, we feel pretty good about that.”
After dropping its first two games of the season, Skyline has now won four of the last five to right the ship.
“It’s starting to pay off,” Shelby said. “You can see it in our kidsÍ¾ the way they approach games like this physical nature of play. We’re used to it, and we kind of relish it and enjoy it. That’s the only way our kids know to do things. We’re going to scratch, we’re going to claw and we’re going to fight until somebody delivers a knockout punch.”
While the loss was disappointing, Strafford head coach Tim Hester praised his young team’s continued development and perseverance. Among the Indians’ five losses, four have been by a single touchdown.
Hester’s never-give-up approach appears to be taking hold, as it continues to produce positive efforts from his underclassmen.
“We scored 28 points, and the majority of our guys are freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” Hester said. “I can see the improvement from this young group, and they just have to learn to finish games.”
Up next for Skyline (4-3) is a MidLakes game on the road against Marionville, while Strafford (2-5) visits Hollister.
Skyline 35, Strafford 28
Skyline 7 12 8 8 35
Strafford 8 14 6 0 28
First quarter scoring
Skyline Shawn Bryan 13yd TD rec from Trevor Russell 7 0 (Tanner Swearingin kick)
Strafford Danny Novakovich 1yd TD rush 8 7 (Kensen White 2pt conversion rush)
Second quarter scoring
Strafford Dillon Hester 50yd TD rec from White 15 7 (Lukas Goodman kick)
Skyline Russell 17yd TD rush 13 15 (2pt conversion failed)
Skyline Bryan 73yd TD rush 19 15 (2pt conversion failed)
Strafford Novakovich 5yd TD rush 22 19 (Goodman kick)
Third quarter scoring
Skyline Bryan 1yd TD rush 27 22 (Russell 2pt conversion rush)
Strafford Wyatt Maples 6yd TD rec from White 28 27 (2pt conversion failed)
Fourth quarter scoring
Skyline Bryan 23yd TD rec from Russell 35 28 (Bryan 2pt conversion rush)