ORION — On a wet, muddy field trying to attempt a field goal is no easy task, with many things that could go wrong.
But Orion junior kicker Ryan Fowler did everything right, nailing a 33-yard attempt with 3.5 seconds remaining in the Chargers' Class 2A second-round playoff match-up with Clifton Central on Saturday afternoon.
Fowler's kick was the difference as Orion knocked off Clifton, 24-21, on its home field to reach the quarterfinals. The Chargers (9-2) will travel to face undefeated Newman Central Catholic (11-0) in the next round.
It was a bit of a surprise that the Chargers had to win the game with a last-second field goal. Orion led the Comets, 21-7, mid-way through the fourth quarter, and its defense was playing stellar.
But Clifton found a way to get the game tied after converting one TD drive that was aided by two penalties on the hosts that gave Clifton (8-3) key first downs and then watching Comets quarterback Andrew Boudreau hit receiver Canyon Burrow for a 68-yard touchdown pass with just over a minute to play in the game.
Orion led 21-19 after the TD pass but the Comets also converted the two-point play when Boudreau hit Burrow again with a 3-yard pass to tie the game, leaving the home team and fans stunned.
But the visitors did not elect to kick deep, and Orion got the ball back at midfield and showed no signs of playing for overtime. Sam West (23 carries, 81 yards) ripped off a 9-yard run, and then Chargers QB Dawson Schulenberg hit Noah Anderson with a 20-yard pass over the middle. A 5-yard run by Seth West to the right hash-mark set up Fowler for the winning attempt.
The snap and hold were good, and Fowler calmly drilled a line drive between the uprights.
"I was really satisfied that I got the field goal because I was really scared that I was going to miss it," Fowler said. "The field here is just straight mud with no grass what-so-ever. I was honestly focusing on putting enough power into it. It feels great knowing that I can make any field goal."
While Fowler might have had an uneasy feeling before knocking the kick through, Chargers coach Chip Filler had full confidence in his kicker.
"The only question was, 'Where did Ryan want it?' He kept saying right hash so that was about the most dicey conversation we had," Filler said. "Just a great job by (Ryan), he needed that kick, and he deserved that kick. The snap was great, the hold was great and the blocking was excellent. We have a lot of faith in him, and this was his first game-winning field goal so we are excited for him."
Aside from the two big plays, the Chargers' defense came up big. Clifton senior running back Kollin Krumwiede ripped off an 81-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to put the visitors up 7-0. The hosts answered with a nice drive capped by a 3-yard TD run by Sam West to tie the game at 7-7.
Schulenberg hooked up with Cole Schroeder for a 14-yard TD pass with 1.8 seconds left before halftime. Schroeder was outstanding in getting his feet inbounds on the fade route in the corner of the end zone to push the home team ahead 14-7.
It looked good for the Chargers when Sam West ran in his second rushing TD from 3 yards out with 4:32 left in the third quarter to make it 21-7 before the Comets worked their way back.
But after Krumwiede's big run, he rushed for just 22 more yards on his last 16 carries. Boudreau did throw for 221 yards, but he was also under constant pressure from the Chargers' front four of Logan Lee, Pat Smutzer, Austin Mack and Cade Jackson. The linebacking corps of Sam West, Chad Banfield and James Schneere were also in on numerous gang tackles.
"Those guys were phenomenal," Filler said of his defense. "One thing we try to put an emphasis on is everybody getting to the football, 11 hats being as one. We have four shutouts in 11 games, why would I not turn the game over to (the defense)?"
The Chargers get a chance for payback against Newman Central Catholic, which defeated Orion, 35-21, in Week 3.
"We are excited about this one, and we will celebrate this one for a while, but be sure we are going to go to work, and, be sure, you are going to have a well-prepared football team going into Sterling," Filler said.