For the most part this season, Albia’s been picking up speed as their season as headed down the tracks toward the postseason.
That momentum was slowed, slightly, on a soft and soggy turf by an Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont team that had nothing to lose.
With just this one non-district game left in their season, the Rockets gave the playoff-bound Blue Demons all they could handle. In the end, the ability to end the regular season on a winning note came down on the shoulders of Albia’s defense.
Junior Shadow Leshen wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“We just kept telling each other on defense to break them down and break them down,” Leshen said. “If we didn’t, they would just keep gaining yards on us.”
Besides being in on several key tackles, Leshen put away EBF’s last-ditch effort to pull off a season-closing upset on Friday. The Blue Demon cornerback picked off Rocket quarterback Trevor Swartz on a fourth-down pass in the dying seconds to clinch Albia’s harder-then-expected 14-12 win.
“No words can explain how that felt to get that final pick,” Leshen said after also collecting 10 tackles from his cornerback position. “It was great to get the offense back out there to take those knees and get that W.”
While Albia celebrated their eighth win of the season, EBF and head coach Eric Kellar were again left with their hands on their heads realizing how close to pulling out a tight contest. Instead, the Rockets finished the year with a valiant effort, but six straight losses after a 2-1 start to the season.
“I’m proud of the effort, but once again it came down to a few plays that killed us early in this game and earlier in the year,” Kellar said.
Kellar wasn’t the only head coach that left the gridiron frustrated by mistakes from his team.
“We just did not play a very good game,” Albia head coach Jerry Staton said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Eddyville because they came out and played a very tough football game. We did not play like we have been playing.”
“This was not a good way to go into the playoffs.”
Hampering both teams from getting into any kind of rhythm was field itself at Albia. The turf, which took in plenty of rain this week, took a slight beating by a pair of middle school games played prior to kickoff.
“I really didn’t think playing those games would do that much damage to the field,” Staton said. “I didn’t think it would tear it up that much.”
EBF and Albia both struggled to move up and down the muddy gridiron. The two teams combined for more turnovers, (5), then touchdowns (4).
“It’s so big to stop them from being able to make that first contact when you go to make a tackle to keep someone from cutting it up field for a few extra yards,” Leshen said. “It was tough at times to get your traction, but it is what it is. You just have to get your footing as best as you can.”
Albia got their footing on the scoreboard on the first play of the second quarter. Quarterback Brett Leshen found Tanner Kellogg from 27 yards out for a touchdown pass that put the Blue Demons up 7-0.
The Blue Demons then took advantage of EBF’s first mistake as Ben Baker collected a fumble by Swartz forced by Shadow. Brett then parlayed Shadow’s forced fumble into another touchdown pass finding Zach Hugen from 17 yards out to double the Blue Demons’ lead.
“Those kind of plays kind helped give it to Albia,” Kellar said. “They took it by getting some key plays, but we also kind of gave it to them with some of our mistakes.”
EBF finally got their footing down on offense in the second half, gaining 106 yards after being limited to just 25 in the first half. The Rockets cut Albia’s lead to 14-6 late in the third quarter on Dillon Pigsley’s 10-yard touchdown run, then converted on two straight fourth downs including Cory Archer’s fourth-and-goal three-yard scoring run that pulled EBF within 14-12.
Needing a two-point conversion to tie it, the Rockets tried for a run by Ty Jager with 2:49 to go. Instead, Albia’s defense came up strong as Hugh Sinclair collected his eighth tackle of the night.
“Everything was running through our heads on that play,” Leshen said. “You just have to bear down and make that big tackle to give your team a chance to win.”
While EBF finishes the season at 2-7 for the season, Kellar sees bright things ahead for his program.
“I don’t know if there were many teams that had to deal with injuries to so many key players each and every week like we had to,” Kellar said. “We’ve got a lot of young players that were already talking about using this effort to motivate us for next year. We fully intend to compete for the playoffs next year.”
Albia (8-1) will compete in the playoffs and will host West Liberty for the second straight year in the opening round on Wednesday. The Blue Demons will be looking to avenge last year’s 23-6 season-ending loss to the Comets.
“When practice comes around, it’s going to be hardcore,” Leshen said. “We’ve got to do what we have to do. We didn’t make it last year. We have to make it this year. Our seniors are definitely going to remind us of that.”
Albia 14, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont 12
EBF 0 0 6 6 — 12
Albia 0 14 0 0 — 14
Scoring By Quarters
A — Tanner Kellogg 27 yard pass from Brett Leshen (Kellogg kick), 11:49
A — Zach Hugen 17 yard pass from Leshen (Kellogg kick), 10:46
EBF — Dillon Pigsley 10 yard run (kick failed), 1:18
EBF — Cory Archer 3 yard run (run failed), 2:49
First downs 11 14
Rushes-yards 42-81 36-126
Passing yards 50 102
Total Yards 131 228
Comp-Att-Int 9-17-2 7-13-1
Return Yards 8-114 9-35
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-Yds 5-36 9-81
RUSHING — Dillon Pigsley 16-58 yards, td, Cory Archer 6-24 yards, td, Ty Jager 8-24 yards, Drake Menius 3-16 yards.
PASSING — Trevor Swartz 8-16, 40 yards, 2 int, fumble.
RECEIVING — Menius 5-16 yards, Pigsley 2-16 yards, Archer 1-13 yards, Trevor Leffler 1-5 yards.
INTERCEPTIONS — Jason Crosby 1-38 yards.
TACKLES — Chance Wuersta 10, sack, Treg Van Dorin 8, Menius 7, Luke Welch 6, Leffler 5, sack, fumble recovery, Jager 5, Black Marlof 5, Crosby 3, Aaron Gordon 3, sack, Pigsley 3, Cody Brown 2, Dalton Brown 2, Levi Johnston 2, Archer, Tyler Scott, Lewie Winkleman.
RUSHING — Brett Leshen 8-46 yards, Alex Schultz 15-34 yards, fumble, Zach Hugan 1-20 yards, Justin Bossard 5-11 yards.
PASSING — B. Leshen 7-13, 102 yards, 2 td, int.
RECEIVING — Hugen 3-37 yards, td, Tanner Kellogg 1-26 yards, td, Ryan Sarver 1-25 yards, Matt Baker 1-11 yards.
INTERCEPTIONS — Hugen 1-0 yards, Shadow Leshen 1-0 yards.
TACKLES — Hugen 12, Dalton Folkerts 11, 2 sacks, S. Leshen 10, sack, Schultz 10, sack, Luke Sarver 9, R. Sarver 9, B. Leshen 8, Hugh Sinclair 8, Ben Baker 6, sack, fumble recovery, Austin Luse 3, Andy Henderson 2, M. Baker, Blake Bayer, Tim Cole, Jared Gradeless, sack.