Cougars down Flying Arrows to reach state football semifinal
CLINTON—John Hoch is a coaching legend
Now in his 34th season at Lancaster High School, Hoch has won seven state titles and has 295 career wins.
The Clinton Cougars made sure win No. 296 didn't come at their expense.
Peyton Pope scored on a 23-yard run with 2:37 left to play to lift Clinton to a 20-17 win over Lancaster in a WIAA Division 5 state quarterfinal game.
Clinton (11-1) plays Cedar Grove-Belgium (11-1) in a state semifinal at a neutral site next Friday or Saturday.
Trailing the entire game, Clinton got a huge sack from Nick Damman to force a punt then rode the legs of Tyler Halsted and Pope to victory. Halsted had runs of 27 and 35 yards on the game-winning drive, and Pope finished it off with a nifty sweep around right end to give the Cougars the lead for good. Lancaster got the ball back one last time but coughed the ball up for the fourth time in the game, and Cole Ciochon recovered with 1:09 to play. Ciochon recovered two of the four Lancaster fumbles.
Clinton coach Jeff Spiwak said his team continues to find ways to win.
“It was the type of football game that everyone expected it to be,” Spiwak said. “That's a very good team we beat with a legendary coach, but credit our guys for perservering and continuing to battle.
“I told the kids all week that we could make a few mistakes and still win the game. And that's what we did despite a couple of stupid penalties and a couple turnovers.”
Clinton served notice on its first drive that it wasn't intimidated by the much bigger Flying Arrows. The Cougars went 71 yards for a touchdown on their opening drive, capped off by Pope's 2-yard TD run. Pope finished with 174 yards rushing.
Lancaster tied the game on the final play of the first quarter when Evan Gates raced untouched 28 yards for a touchdown. Gates was a one-man wrecking crew. The junior, who came into the game third in the state in rushing, torched the Cougars defense for 327 yards on 37 carries.
Gates' second TD of the game gave the Flying Arrows a 15-7 lead with 9:13 left in the half.
Jordan Jones made a huge momentum-shifting play to end the first half. The Clinton senior intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown with five seconds to play. Lancaster was driving and could've opened up a two-touchdown lead.
“Jordan's been doing that all season for us,” Ciochon said. “We're all used to it.
“And really, I thought our defense did a lot of good things tonight. That was the best back (Gates) we've seen all season, but we knew that we could force some fumbles because he doesn't have the best ball security when he runs.”
Leading by two at half, Lancaster picked up two points on a safety when Spiwak decided to have Ciochon snap the ball out of the end zone rather than try and punt from the Cougars' one-foot line. The move worked when Clinton stopped Lancaster on the ensuing series.
Playing in a state semifinal game for the first time in program history, Spiwak insists his team will continue to play loose.
“We have good kids that are playing with confidence, and we coach them with confidence,” Spiwak said. “We talk all the time about not beating ourselves, and our kids have really bought into that.
“It's an exciting time for not only the players and coaches, but the community, as well. Let's hope we can keep it rolling.”
CLINTON 20, LANCASTER 17
Lancaster 7 8 2 0—17
Clinton 7 6 0 7—20
Scoring summary: C—Peyton Pope 2 run (Jesus Juarez kick). L—Evan Gates 28 run (Tanner Oyen kick). L—Gates 3 run (Gates run). C—Jordan Jones 74 interception return (run failed). L—Snap out of end zone. C—Pope 23 run (Juarez kick).
Statistics: First downs—L 18, C 18. Rushes—L 56-379, C 39-301. Yards passing—L 1, C 77. Passes—8-3-1C 14-6-1. Fumbles—L 6-4, C 3-1. Penalties—L 3-15, C 5-44.