Sophomore Taylor Fitzgerald made sure that Pusch Ridge wouldn’t lose on Senior Night.
Fitzgerald ran for 195 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. He also caught two passes for 72 yards.
The Lions (6-4) trailed 10-7 to Rico Rico at halftime, before catching fire in the second half and winning 48-37.
When quarterback Mark Gastellum ran 60 yards on the second play of the second half, it was 17-7 in favor of the Hawks.
Were the Lions concerned?
“During halftime,” Fitzgerald said. “We said believe. We drove the ball and got the momentum back.”
The Lions passing game had struggled in the first half when they completed only one pass. But things changed on the Lions first possession of the second half.
Quarterback Jake Frithsen completed a 19-yard pass on the right side to Fitzgerald which took the ball down to the Hawks 16-yard line. On the next play, Frithsen rolled left and found Grayson Barghols for a 16-yard touchdown. The kick by Aaron Penazek made it 17-14 with 8:19 left in the third. Barghols had earlier scored on a 43-yard touchdown reception on a pass from Frithsen.
An interception by Kif Nichols set up the go-ahead touchdown for the Lions.
Fitzgerald caught a pass and raced 21 yards down to the four-yard line. A few plays later, Connor Reilly ran it in from three yards out to give the Lions the lead at 21-17.
Frithsen was four for 10 for 131 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Perhaps the most critical point in the game came on the ensuing kickoff. On their previous kickoff, the Lions had kicked a touchback. This time around they went for the onside kick.
They had earlier tried an onside kick and failed, giving the ball to Rio Rico in great field position.
This time it worked.
“Momentum was important,” said Lions coach Troy Cropp. “We did it to keep the momentum.”
“They’re very big and physical. For us, we had to create opportunities.”
After the kick recovery, Fitzgerald broke off runs of 15 and 17 yards, respectively, setting up another three-yard touchdown run by Connor Reilly for a 28-17 lead.
“We drove the ball and got the momentum back,” Fitzgerald said. “Our offensive line executed well.”
“It sets up the pass. The run sets up everything.”
Joey Lowery added 67 yards rushing, while Connor Reilly added 54. The Lions finished with 344 yards rushing overall.
With momentum on their side, the Lions ended up scoring 34 unanswered points.
Fitzgerald broke a 61-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, which left many observers shaking their heads in disbelief. It also gave the Lions what seemed like a commanding 34-17 lead.
Fitzgerald’s offensive total was 267 yards, not to mention an additional 66 on kickoff returns.
Defensively, the Lions biggest challenge was trying to stop the Hawks Aaron Fanning.
The Lions entered the game with a shot at the playoffs, despite an 0-3 start under first year coach Troy Cropp.
“We don’t know about our chances,” Cropp said after the game. “There were three or four teams ahead of us with tough games on their schedules.”
When the selections came out over the weekend, the Lions did not qualify for the Division V playoffs.