By Robert Tomlinson
CONSTANTINE — Slow starts can kill a team in football, especially late in the state playoffs.
Constantine’s football team learned that firsthand, as the team came up empty on its first three possessions on the way to a 38-25 loss to Ovid-Elsie in Saturday’s Division 6 regional final/state quarterfinals matchup at home.
With the loss, Constantine ends its season at 10-2, while Ovid-Elsie played Almont in the state semifinals Friday.
The inauspicious start for the Falcons began early, as Bennett VandenBerg fumbled on the third play of the game. It was recovered by the Marauders, which led to a 24-yard rushing touchdown three plays later by junior Clayton Fruchey to put Ovid-Elsie up 7-0 just over two minutes into the game.
Constantine went three and out on its next possession, practically going backwards, which led to yet another touchdown by Fruchey, this time from two yards out, to put the Marauders up 14-0. After the Falcons turned it over on downs on a fourth-and-four play, the Marauders capitalized yet again on the Falcons’ inability to move the ball, with a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tryce Tokar to Hunter Bates to make it a commanding 21-0 lead, one they would take into the second quarter.
“It was repeated punches, that was the key,” Constantine head coach Shawn Griffith said after the game. “The big play stuff, it took us longer than we thought it was
“They definitely had a couple kids that came out and hit us hard early,” Constantine head coach Shawn Griffith said after the game. “We did wake up, and I think we responded well.”
Constantine tried to build some momentum going into the second quarter, as the team was able to move the ball fairly well on its fourth drive of the game, ending in a seven-yard touchdown run by VandenBerg with 9:24 to go in the first half to make it a 21-7 game. After forcing a four-and-out for the first time in the game, Constantine took over at its own 27-yard line, but had to punt it away after a false start on a fourth-and-three attempt. Ovid-Elsie would take advantage, returning the punt to the Constantine 37 and scoring a few plays later on an 18-yard touchdown run by Fruchey to make it a 28-7 lead with less than two minutes left.
However, Constantine would try to grab some more momentum before the end of the half, taking just two plays to find the end zone on their next drive: A 38-yard run by the Falcons’ Rushawn James and a 12-yard quarterback keeper by Brody Jones to make it 28-13 after the extra point was missed. That was the score going into the half.
While the Falcons forced the Marauders to punt on their first possession of the second half, Constantine would go three-and-out on its first second-half possession. Taking over from their own 30, the Marauders got big chunk plays, including a 50-yard run, but ultimately settling for a field goal on a fourth and goal at the 3-yard line to make it 31-13.
The ensuing kickoff after the field goal angled toward the Marauders’ sideline, but did not bounce out of bounds like the Falcons appeared to think it would. The live ball was recovered by Ovid-Elsie to the delight of the full bleachers of their fans on that side of the field, and the Marauders capitalized on the Falcons’ mental error with a three-yard touchdown pass to Fruchey to essentially put the dagger in Constantine, 38-13 at the end of the third quarter.
Constantine would score on their final two possessions of the game, with a one-yard run by VandenBerg and a 62-yard sprint by VandenBerg on the last play of the game, but it was to no avail as Ovid-Elsie hoisted the regional championship trophy at the end of the game.
Despite the loss, Griffith said the team had a good season.
“If you’d ask me how I thought we would do in the regional final before this year started, I’d’ve laughed at you and said it wasn’t a realistic goal for us,” Griffith said. “As the season went on, our kids continued to get better and better, and that’s all you can ask for any team. Our senior class was 0-5-1 as eighth graders, and I made sure to remind them of that every day for the last four years. To come out and have the season we just had, hats off to those guys.”
James was the leading rusher for the Falcons, carrying the ball 11 times for 83 yards. VandenBerg had 13 carries for 83 yards and three touchdowns, and Jones carried the ball eight times for 81 yards and a touchdown. Jones was 1-of-3 passing for 12 yards. Defensively, Cohen McGee had 15 tackles, VandenBerg had 13 tackles and Brendan Presswood had 12.
For Ovid-Elsie, Fruchey led all players with 25 carries for 203 yards and three touchdowns, plus four catches for 19 yards and a touchdown. Tokar was 10-of-15 for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
“You’re always upset you lose, but it certainly wasn’t for effort either. I didn’t see my kids give up today, I saw no quit in them, and I think it’s a testament to our coaching staff as well,” Griffith said. “That’s a really good football team we just lost to.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.