LOWELL – This one had all the makings of an instant classic with everything you could want in a football game: Two solid teams with great traditions in Griffith and Lowell; two future Hall of Fame coaches in Russ Radtke and Kirk Kennedy; a packed house and foul weather to boot.
In other words when Griffith and Lowell slugged it out at the Inferno for the class 4A Regional Championship, it was a typical Griffith and Lowell football game, with Lowell coming out on top 19-13 on a 39 yard touchdown pass from Kurt Monix to Jake Belt with 28.8 seconds remaining in the game.
Although there was no rain during the game, steady rain over the past two days turned the turf at the Inferno into a quagmire of mud early, covering numbers and helmets and helping to slow the vaunted ground games of both clubs.
After Lowell went three and out on their opening possession, Griffith got on the board quickly on their second play from scrimmage as Panther quarterback Greg Joyce took a belly option play 58 yards for the score. Joyce led all rushers in the ballgame with 114 yards on 12 carries. The point after touchdown by Jeff Melton was good for a 7-0 Griffith lead at the 9:46 mark of the first quarter.
The PAT by Melton would prove to be one of only two successful attempts on the night for both kickers as Melton missed his second attempt and Matt Berkos of Lowell missed two of his three kicks on the night.
Lowell answered quickly and got on the board on their next possession as Red Devil quarterback Kurt Monix faked an end around to wide receiver Cody Midgett and took the bootleg 40 yards for the score with 6:14 left in the first quarter. Matt Berkos extra point attempt sailed wide and Griffith led 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.
With Lowell tailback Brandon Grubbe (53 yards rushing) stymied on the ground for much of the ballgame, Lowell took to the air as Monix hooked up with Cody Midgett on a 44 yard touchdown pass to put the Red Devils ahead. Matt Berkos added his only successful PAT for 13-7 Lowell lead with 7:29 left in the first half.
Monix threw for 166 yards and two TD’s for the game but threw three interceptions, all of which came in the first half. Trevor Janke of Griffith came up with all three of Monix’ errant throws.
The Panthers knotted things up when Austin Guzior scampered 15 yards for a Griffith score to tie things up at 13-13 with 1:37 remaining in the half after Melton’s PAT kick was blocked.
Lowell drove down inside the Griffith 25 yard line in the waning moments of the half, but Janke’s pick in the endzone ended the threat and the first half with the score tied.
Neither team could sustain any consistent offense in the second half as the field had turned into a muddy mess. Neither club ever really established control of the line of scrimmage either regardless of field conditions.
Griffith rushed for 260 yards on the ground for the game, but passed for just 42 and had only seven first downs for the game. Griffith’s defense held Lowell’s vaunted ground game to just 119 yards for the contest and although Lowell passed for 166 yards in the game, the Red Devils made just ten first downs in the game.
The two teams traded punches and possessions throughout the second half until Cody Midgett made the first of two big plays for Lowell in the final moments.
Midgett made a great read on an errant Greg Joyce pass and intercepted to give Lowell the ball at the Panther 45 with 1:56 remaining in the game.
After a Lowell first down, the Red Devils faced a third down and three at the Griffith 39 yard line when Monix found Jake Belt for a touchdown to give Lowell the lead with 28.8 seconds remaining. Belt came back for the football to make a great catch in triple coverage for what would prove to be the game winner.
But Griffith still had life after Berkos missed his second PAT on the night and the Panthers moved the ball down to the Lowell 40 yard line before time expired. Truly the Panthers could relate to what the great Vince Lombardi used to say, that “we never lost a game, we just ran out of time”.
“This game was I exactly what I expected, said Lowell Coach Kirk Kennedy after the game. “Griffith is a great team. They came a long way this year but we just made one more play down the stretch. Our kids really hung in there (tonight). We fought hard and Griffith fought hard, we just made one more play than them.”
“It was a great game, a typical Lowell-Griffith football game,” continued Kennedy. “I’m just proud of our kids for fighting and hanging in there. We gave up some big plays and Griffith got excited so it would have been easy for us to get down. But we hung in there, believed in the plan and played four quarters of football just like we do every game and we came out on top.”
Chris Lannin can be e-mailed at Chris.firstname.lastname@example.org