FAIRFAX, Mo. – There is no shame in losing to the number one team in the state as the South Holt/Nodaway-Holt Spartans did on Friday night. Much like their first matchup with the East Atchison Wolves, the Spartans kept pace with the Wolves for two quarters. It was the other two quarters that were the difference in their 58-36 loss in the district semifinals.
“The second and third quarters we were kind of absent on offense and scored 36 in the other two,” Spartans coach Josh Petersen said. “We fought and didn’t give up when we were down 40. We fought back and got it back to a 22-point game.”
The Spartans couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game. The South Holt/Nodaway-Holt marched down the field with a seven-play drive consisting on seven runs for 54 yards. Quarterback Drew Quinlin finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
The SHNH defense, which had improved over the latter half of the season, took a step back against the Wolves’ offense. Sophomore running back Kaylin Merriweather took East Atchison’s opening play 69 yards for a touchdown.
“He does great for us, he doesn’t have the offensive stats like he would on other squads just because we have skill guys that can make plays,” Wolves coach Aaron Behrens said.
The two team’s ensuing drives looked much like their first. The Spartans put together an eight-play drive that ended with Quinlin finding wide receiver Gannon Phelan for a three-yard touchdown. East Atchison’s Jake McEnaney opened the Wolves drive with a 37-yard touchdown run.
“It was awesome, home field, got the blood flowing and the adrenaline going—it was awesome,” McEnaney said.
The turning point in the game came on the Spartans’ third drive. SHNH covered 19 yards on their first two runs. Quinlin was then tackled for a loss and then a dropped pass put them in a hole. Quinlin’s nine-yard run on fourth and seven kept the drive alive, though.
The Spartans converted their third first down of the drive before the offense then started moving backwards. Running back Houston Coleman was tackled for a loss on both runs and sandwiched in between was an incomplete pass. Faced with a fourth and 18, Quinlin scrambled for the first down attempt, only to come up a yard short.
McEnaney opened the Wolves’ third drive with a 37-yard run, ending the first quarter with the two teams tied at 14. The Spartans ran 27 plays in the first period, while East Atchison ran just three.
McEnaney and running back Briacin Bywater combined for 54 yards on six carries on the drive. Senior wide receiver Gus Hurst ended the drive with an 11-yard touchdown catch to give the Wolves the lead.
A three-and-out for the Spartans gave the ball right back to an East Atchison offense that they couldn’t find an answer for in the first half. McEnaney kept the offense rolling with a 72-yard touchdown pass to Merriweather on third and 20.
South Holt/Nodaway-Holt’s ensuing drive ended on an incomplete pass on fourth down and the Wolves again, made them pay. McEnaney’s pass on first down came up incomplete, but the senior quarterback took the second play 37 yards for a touchdown to give East Atchison a 36-14 lead.
Down 22, the Spartans were forced to go for it on fourth and 10 on their next drive. Quinlin found wide receiver Dylan Schuetz, but the junior wide receivers catch was a yard short of the first down.
“They switched defense and started blitzing more and our line wasn’t looking up and seeing where it was coming from,” Petersen said. “When we were running option, kind of bubbling back and we were losing two, three, five and six yards.”
The SHNH defense and junior Dallas Nowling finally found some success against the Wolves offense. Nowling’s sack on fourth and six gave the Spartans an opportunity for a quick score before halftime.
Coleman got the SHNH offense to within striking distance with a 28-yard run. Quinlin’s pass to end the half was off the mark and East Atchison held on to their 22-point lead.
The game appeared to be headed toward an early ending as the Wolves started the third quarter by doubling their lead with touchdowns from tight end Ian Hedlun, Bywater and Merriweather.
The Spartans ended their scoring drought early in the fourth quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Quinlin to Alex Harris. Quinlin continued adding to his season total in touchdowns, but this time on the defensive side as he recovered a fumble on East Atchison’s next drive—returning it 40 yards for a touchdown.
“At halftime, Coach P got a little angry with us and relit a fire,” Quinlin said. “For our seniors, the team just came together and kept fighting.”
The South Holt/Nodaway-Holt defense forced a four-and-out on the Wolves next drive, giving their offense a chance once again to cut into the lead. The five-play drive ended with Quinlin scoring his 29th rushing touchdown of the season.
Quinlin finished the season with 54 offensive touchdowns, giving him 110 over the last two years. The junior finished with 1,257 rushing yards and 1,404 passing yards.
“We could have just folded, thrown in the towel and gave East Atchison that game, but we didn’t,” Quinlin said. “We fought and that was a good feeling.”
The Spartans have high hopes for next season as they return all but three seniors while taking on some new faces from a large middle school class.
“It was a pleasant way to end as far as the fourth quarter goes, it just sucks now because the season is over,” Petersen said. “We lose three seniors, but we have a bunch of people coming back to build off of this and hopefully we’re in that position where we’re playing for a district championship.”
East Atchison moves on to play for that district championship after a strong performance from its seniors Friday night. Merriweather, McEnaney and Bywater combined for 396 rushing yards on 30 carries.
“They’re a good football team, so once they got a little momentum and gained some confidence,” Behrens said. “We hung on, but it wasn’t a pretty football game. The silver lining of it is that film on Monday isn’t going to be all rainbows, hugs and high fives. Hopefully it lets us refocus and point out some things that we really did wrong and get it cleaned up for next week.”
The Wolves move on to face the defending state champions next Friday when they host the Mound City Panthers. East Atchison defeated the Panthers 58-50 earlier in the season. Even with the win, McEnaney says the team still believes they’re not the favorites.
“We think that we’re the underdogs, we carry that chip on our should that we’re the underdogs and people count us out,” McEnaney said.