The contact was slight. The flag flew into the air. The momentum of the game turned.
On a fourth-down play midway through the third quarter, Aberdeen appeared to have stopped Mark Morris from gaining a pivotal first down.
However, one of the sideline officials bumped into an Aberdeen coach, prompting a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct/sideline interference call to extend the Monarchs’ drive. The visitors scored on the next play and the hosts never led again.
Mark Morris took that 14-7 lead and survived a furious comeback attempt by Aberdeen to win, 21-14, in this Greater St. Helens 2A League opener at Stewart Field on Friday night.
“The kids played their hearts out,” Aberdeen head coach Terry Dion said. “That was a pretty good Mark Morris team. We were playing pretty well. We got that fourth-down stop and would have had the ball in decent field position. We had that call that had nothing to do with the football game. That was disappointing. We had the ball and had the lead. That was their first drive of the second half. It led to a touchdown. Instead of us getting the ball, they got the touchdown and it took us a while to get them off the field. They controlled the clock and we didn’t get many snaps in the second half.”
Aberdeen (0-1, 2-3) dominated the line of scrimmage on offense, outgaining Mark Morris (1-0, 4-1), 347-152. AHS junior running back Austin Floch ran for 154 yards on 23 carries and one touchdown and finished with 166 yards of total offense.
However, it was turnovers and that unfortunate penalty that turned the tide away from the Bobcats.
The Monarchs marched 73 yards on 6:13 of play to start the third quarter. Just before Hayden Tapani ran in his second touchdown of the game from 14 yards out, the Bobcats stuffed him on a lateral throw for 1 yard on fourth-and-6 at the AHS 30-yard line.
At the finish of the play, the flag flew as the sideline official collided with an AHS coach and threw the flag for interference.
Following the Monarchs’ drive, the Bobcats went out in seven plays and the visitors began to grind the clock as both teams did in the first half.
Aberdeen had chances to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Deon Schlesser stepped in front of a Max Tilton pass for an interception with six minutes left in the game. However, the Bobcats gave the ball up on downs after a fake punt at their own 38-yard line.
With 4:02 left, the Bobcats tried to mount another tying drive. But, with pressure on quarterback Veek Cheema, the Monarchs’ Keigan Baker intercepted the ball and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead with 2:49 remaining.
Aberdeen rebounded with a four-play, 63-yard drive, capped by a 38-yard touchdown pass from Cheema to Schlesser. Kicker Andres Valdez booted the extra-point attempt at 21-14 with 2:10 left.
An onside kick attempt went to the Monarchs, forcing the Bobcats to burn their final two timeouts. On third down, Baker got the ball on a toss sweep and his long throw to a wide-open Kyle Stevens was incomplete, stopping the clock at 1:52 left.
After a short punt, the Bobcats restarted from their 24-yard line, got an 8-yard pass play from Cheema to Schlesser, then gave up the ball on downs with two incomplete passes and a 1-yard run by Floch on fourth down.
“We are accountable, we did have a few turnovers and had a couple of mistakes,” Dion added. “I thought the consistency and the intensity (was there). There was some great football played out there. We were dominating (in the first half). We were disappointed to just have seven points at halftime. We had some opporutnities, but you have to score more than just seven points with the yardage we piled up in that half. We didn’t translate those yards into more points.”
Aberdeen and Mark Morris pounded the football with their ground games in a swiftly played first half. The Bobcats, behind Floch’s running, rattled off long drives that ate up the clock and yards.
On their second drive of the game, the Bobcats got onto the scoreboard. A 69-yard, eight-play drive was all Floch, who ran for 59 yards and one touchdown. The scoring run was a 17-yard blitz over the left side of the offensive line and a foot race with two Monarch defenders to the goal line. Valdez kicked the extra point.
“We have a good line and wanted to push up the field; it was working, so we kept at it,” said Floch, who had 126 yards rushing in the first half. “I was surprised (at the halftime score). I thought we would push in there a couple of more times, but stuff happens. This gives us another reason to keep fighting and to keep working hard in order to get into the postseason. We have a lot of potential here and I think we have a lot of good ahead of us.”
Aberdeen had the night’s longest drive, an 81-yard march in 14 plays that ended on a missed 29-yard field goal by Valdez. Mark Morris started the next drive on its 20-yard line and needed 10 plays to set up Tapani’s 5-yard touchdown run at 7-6. Tilton found Austin Smith short and Smith broke three tackles to rumble 39 yards into Aberdeen territory to push the drive along.
Cheema finished with 122 yards passing on 11-for-22 attempts, one touchdown and two interceptions. Lorenzo Ontiveros caught four of those passes for 42 yards.
On Friday, Aberdeen will stay home to take on R.A. Long.