ORION — Twice in the previous two weeks the Orion football team tempted fate and twice they came away with victories. In Saturday's Class 2A quarterfinal game against Eastland-Pearl City there was nothing that could save the Chargers.
A big, athletic and talented EPC club just had too much for the Chargers and dominated the game basically from the outset en route to a 30-3 win at Charger Field.
"We lived a charmed life the last two weeks, and you just can't keep dancing around trouble before it comes to an end," Orion coach Chip Filler said. "We didn't tackle well, and we just had a lot of things we didn't do well. We knew (EPC) was going to be good, and they played well."
The Wildcats showed they came to play right off the bat. A 38-yard run by Jayden Kempel on the game's second play set up EPC deep in Orion territory, and quarterback Braden Smargaissi snuck in from the 1 to give his team a 7-0 lead 3:14 into the game.
"We are very physical and fast," EPC coach Jared McNutt said. "We didn't start the season well, but the guys are all buying in now. I think people are taking notice now that we are not a fluke."
In fact, the sixth-ranked Wildcats (12-0) proved they are a force on both sides of the ball. The EPC defense held third-ranked Orion (11-1) to merely 55 rushing yards and pretty much stymied the Charger passing game, including three interceptions — two off Dawson Schulenberg, who came into the game with just one pick all season.
One of those picks led to EPC's second score midway through the second quarter. This time it was Kempel (27 carries for 151 yards) going in from 9 yards out to make it 13-0.
Orion had a golden opportunity to get back in the game late in the half, driving to the EPC 4. However, on an outside run by Seth West, a Wildcats defender hit West, dislodged the ball and Jared Kempel recovered it to end the half.
"That was really a momentum changer," Jared Kempel said. "If they score there, they were going to get the ball back to start the second half, so the game may have changed. They have such a potent offense, that turnover was really huge."
Filler couldn't agree more.
"That was an extremely tough point," he said. "We needed to put points on the board there, even a Ryan Fowler field goal is big. Seth is the leading rusher in Orion history and he never fumbled. The kid's helmet hits right on the ball. What can you do there?"
The Chargers couldn't get anything going in the second half, finishing with two first downs after halftime and completing just three of 12 passes. They got inside the EPC 5, trailing 19-0, but settled for a field goal.
Meanwhile, the Kempel twins took over. They combined for 245 rushing yards on 39 carries and two TDs, Jayden had two catches for 84 yards, including a 77-yard TD sprint on a screen pass, and Jared totaled 126 yards on three kick returns (two kickoff and one punt).
"Jared and I are pretty competitive," Jayden Kempel said. "We always want to better than the other one, but that just pushes us harder."
Added McNutt, "Both of the twins play at a really high level. They can do it all. Jared (who also had an interception) jumped on that fumble at the end of the half, and that might have changed the entire game."
While there were plenty of tears among the Chargers after the game, Filler couldn't help but talk about what this current group of seniors has done.
"It was unfortunate we were not at full strength, but that happens," said Filler, whose team was most prominently missing Iowa-committed tight end Logan Lee. "We circled the wagons, and these guys never quit on each other.
"I have had these seniors four, five and sometimes six days a week for the last four years. I love them, and I know when they go out into the world, they are all going to be better for this. It will be hard to watch them walk out that locker room door the last time."