By Jacki Wood, Sports Editor, written for The Concordian
After a turnover-laden first half, the Concordia Orioles turned things around in Friday’s home opener against the Higginsville Huskers. But it wasn’t quite enough as the Orioles lost 42-26.
“Turnovers in the first half dug a hole that was difficult to overcome,” Concordia head coach Tom Gramates said. “We went into a funk in the first quarter. But we were able to pull ourselves out of it.”
Concordia turned the ball over four times in the half – two fumbles and an interception in the first quarter and another interception in the second quarter – and Higginsville capitalized, scoring after each one.
The Class 2 Huskers entered the game after going undefeated during the regular season last year with a nice playoff run.
“We knew that Higginsville was a quality team and we had our hands full,” Gramates said. “Yet I believe, and our players believe, we could have won the game had we taken care of the little things.”
With three minutes left in the first quarter and the Huskers leading 20-0, Concordia put together a solid drive down to the 17-yard line to end the quarter. Continuing that drive as the second started, quarterback Austin Hon ran it in for the Orioles’ first TD of the game. Cass Heimsoth completed the two-point conversion to make it a 20-8 game with 10:34 left in the half.
The Huskers responded quickly to go up 28-8 where the score remained at halftime.
A couple of turnovers by both teams to start the third quarter made it seem as though the turnovers would be the story of the night.
But the Orioles had other things in mind.
Late in the third, Heimsoth and Cory Meineka put together several long runs down to the Husker seven-yard line. Meineka scored on a shovel pass from Hon to bring the score to 28-14 with three minutes left.
And after a strong defensive stand and a muffed punt recovered by the Orioles, the momentum quickly moved into Concordia’s favor.
With 19.6 seconds left in the third, a 32-yard touchdown pass to Beydler made it a 28-20 game.
Continuing their comeback, Concordia recovered a fumbled kickoff, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, they scored again on a 30-yard pass from Hon to Beydler, making it a 28-26 game with 11:53 left in the game.
“It was a fun game with a lot of emotion and heroic play by our guys,” Gramates said. “It was kind of like riding the back roads on an eighth of a tank of gas. You know you’re going to run out and eventually end up walking.”
Down by two, the Orioles weren’t quite ready to get out and walk home just yet.
They caused another fumble on the kickoff and recovered it to take over at the Huskers’ 48-yard line at the 11:51 mark.
But on the first pass of the drive, Higginsville intercepted a pass by Hon. And after a couple of big defensive stops by both teams, the Huskers scored with 7:09 to go to make it 35-26.
Higginsville began running the ball well – and the clock out – late in the fourth. They scored one final time with 1:22 left, ending Concordia’s comeback and the game, with a final score of 42-26.
“This group will improve, no doubt about it,” Gramates said. “The character they displayed Friday night was exceptional. I was really excited to see the emotion we played with (and) the attitude of playing together.”
Gramates said Higginsville made a point of taking Heimsoth out of the passing game, which allowed other receivers to have good games.
“We found a couple of really good players that were question marks,” he said. “Austin Beydler was a great compliment to Cass Heimsoth on the other side. He had an outstanding game. Jordan Schuelter also came up big with some key catches.”
With quality receivers and a solid quarterback, Gramates said they have a more diverse threat than last year.
“I don’t know the last time a Concordia team threw the ball for 277 yards in a competitive game,” he said. “It showed us a lot.”
Gramates said the Orioles started five linemen that had not played “a meaningful down in varsity football,” and while they made mistakes, he said he believes they will get better.
He was also impressed by the defensive play of Meineka and Layne Baldwin.
“They are the heart and soul of the defense right now,” he said.
The extreme heat, which caused the game to be pushed back an hour, also caused some issues with cramping. The Orioles also suffered a couple of injuries including Andy Galloway, the team’s kicker.
“Had we been able to kick the PATs in the second half,” Gramates said, “we would have taken the lead in the fourth quarter.”
Hon finished the game 15-34 passing for 245 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions. Beydler had seven receptions for 128 yards. Meineka had 14 carries for 75 yards and Heimsoth had six carries for 48 yards.
Baldwin led the team in tackles with eight solo, one assisted and three tackles for loss. Hon has six solo and two assisted, Meineka had three solo, three assisted, one tackle for loss and one sack and Patrick Hastings had three solo, one assisted, two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
The Orioles are back in action this Friday at home against Orrick.