OSCODA – Oscoda’s first ever home playoff game started off sweet. It ended sour.
The Owls, hosting McBain in a division seven playoff opener Friday night, jumped to an early 12-0 lead, but stalled out from there. The Ramblers clamped down on defense and got just enough offense, ending the Oscoda season with a 14-12 loss, putting a halt to what had been one of the best seasons in program history.
“It was tough,” head coach Mark Whitley said. “I thought we played pretty well but they are a big, physical team and they kept fighting and we kept fighting up until the last second. The kids played their hearts out, they should be proud. It was a tremendous year.”
The Owls needed just over six minutes to take a 12-0 lead, leaving the Oscoda players and the packed home crowd buzzing. The Ramblers were able to score on a long touchdown pass a few minutes before the half and scored on their first possession of the second half as well, giving them the margin that they needed to advance to the district championship.
“We started out and drove the ball down the field and did some really good stuff on offense and defense,” Whitley said. “I think as the night wore on the team that was faster had to start slowing down a little bit just to get our footing. The field became a mess and they went into their ‘T’ formation on offense and were able to get two or three yards a carry and chunked the clock and the yards. We would have preferred a little better track than we had, but that’s football in November. I’m not making excuses, the kids had a great year and they played phenomenal.”
The Owls opened the game with the ball on their own 42-yard line after a 15-yard return by Owen Franklin. Robert Host took a handoff on the first play of the game to the left side of the field, finding room near the sideline for a run to the McBain 36-yard line.
From there Oscoda faced a fourth-and-two at the 28. Brayden Mallak ran a quarterback draw up the middle, getting just enough room for the first down at the 26. Mallak also completed a pass to Owen Franklin on third-and-six, that set up a first-and-goal at the 10.
Two plays later Host took a sweep to the right edge, where he was able to sprint in for six points. A pass attempt on the ensuing two-point conversion was intercepted near the endzone, leaving the Oscoda lead at 6-0.
McBain was able to pick up a first down on its ensuing possession, however from there the Owl defense was able to hold the Ramblers back, forcing a fourth-and-seven on the McBain 37-yard line.
On the ensuing punt Logan Kimmet busted through the line, getting his hand up to block the punt. Anthony Ward scooped up the ball from the ground and tacked on a few return yards, getting to the McBain 22-yard line.
Two plays into the ensuing drive Host broke free on a run to set up a first-and-goal on the three, with Franklin taking the ball in for the score a play later. The two-point conversion was stuffed behind the line however, leaving Oscoda’s lead at 12-0 with 5:27 left to play in the opening quarter.
“Logan came through and blocked that punt, doing a great job coming inf rom the nose guard spot,” Whitley said. “I thought here we go, this is awesome and sure enough it turned into a score.”
While Oscoda was able to put up the two early touchdowns, it was hard to not look at the pair of failed two-point conversions. The team’s kicker Gabe Kellstrom was lost for the year to an injury mid-season. Kellstrom was nearly automatic on extra points and was an impact at wide receiver as well, before suffering the injury.
“We had miscues on the two-point conversions,” Whitley said. “With our kicker down and with the footing the way it was we elected to go for two points, something we have been pretty good at this year. If we make one of them we tie and if we make both of them we win. We can’t look at it like that though, that’s not reality. The reality is we were zero-for-two on those but we wouldn’t change the fact that we went for them.”
McBain was able to take its next drive as far as the Owl 27-yard line. The Ramblers attempted a pass on fourth-and-five however, which Franklin was able to defend well, keeping the ball from finding the intended receivers’ hands.
The two teams struggled to get offense going the rest of the half, as each traded short possessions. It appeared as if the game would be 12-0 going into the half, but McBain scored its first points of the night with just four minutes left in the opening quarter.
The Ramblers faced a fourth-and-15 from the Owl 45-yard line. Instead of punting the ball, McBain called for a pass play. The Rambler quarterback heaved a high pass for a receiver near the 15-yard line, and the McBain player was able to effectively box-out the would-be Oscoda defender to make the catch. From there he ran uncontested into the endzone to make it 12-6. McBain put in the two-point conversion to close the gap to 12-8.
The Ramblers did get the ball back late in the half as well, but the Oscoda defense was able to come up with a big stop to keep their lead at the break.
“We would have liked to have put up another score in the first half and then we let them get a deep ball into the end-zone,” Whitley said. “It was fourth down and they just threw a jump-ball and we got out jumped and they scored a touchdown.”
The Ramblers shifted from running a spread offense and a full house in the first half. They elected to go with the full house for the first possession of the second, a decision that ultimately paid off.
They started with the ball 33-yard line, but were able to grind out the 67 yards they needed for the score in 13 running plays. McBain was methodical in its march down the field, chunking the Owls for about four or five yards an attempt and finished the drive off with what turned into the game-winning touchdown on a five-yard run up the middle. A failed two-point conversion left McBain with a 14-12 lead with 6:13 to play in the third.
While the Oscoda offense couldn’t get back on track, its defense did what it could to give the Owls a chance.
Midway through the fourth, with McBain going for it on fourth-and-five just nine yards away from the end-zone, Ward and Adam Hein broke through the Rambler offensive line, stuffing a pitch play on the left side of the field.
McBain was able to get the ball back after stopping Oscoda on fourth down. The Ramblers had the ball on the Owl 29-yard line with just 2:44 left in the contest, and hoped to run the clock out on the Owls. Instead, just two plays into the drive McBain attempted what appeared to be a half-back pass play. Pressure from the Owls forced a fumble however, which Dault alertly scooped up and returned to the Oscoda 36-yard line with 1:51 left to play.
“Huge play,” Whitley said of the turnover. “The clock was running down but we were able to get through and force a fumble. Dault has made huge plays all year long and put us in a position here to have a chance.”
The turnover appeared to reenergize the Owl players, their sideline and the stands.
Mallak hit Dault for a pass on the first play of the drive, getting Oscoda to the McBain 44-yard line and a play later he tossed well-placed ball to Ward near the sideline for another first down, setting up the Owls just 30-yards away from the endzone with 1:20 left to play.
Mallak’s first down attempt was incomplete, though he was able to find Franklin on second down for a five-yard gain, setting up third-and-five on the 25.
On the third down play Mallak was forced out of the pocket, and in the scramble he was caught and taken down for a two yard loss at the 27.
With time running down the Owls hurried to the line for a fourth down attempt. Mallak was never able to get a pass off however, as McBain burst through the line and took him down for a sack, giving the Ramblers the ball on the 31-yard line.
McBain took one knee to run out the clock and just like that, the historic Oscoda season was over.
“We hit a couple passes and started moving the ball,” Whitley said. “On the last play, we were hoping to look one way but throw it the other way but we slipped some. That just happens when it is wet and muddy like that. I can’t take anything away from our players though, they fought right until the end and I’m very proud of them.”
Mallak finished eigt-of-19 passing for 120 yards and three interceptions and he also added 31 yards on 10 rushing attempts.
Franklin had five receptions for 63 yards and rushed eight times for 27 yards and a score. Host rushed 11 times for 61 yards and a score and he also had one reception for 23 yards. Dault rushed eight times for 20 yards and Ward added one 15-yard reception.
Caleb Nagel led the defense with 11 tackles, Zach Ouillette took down 10, Ward had 7.5 tackles and with 4.5 each was Franklin and Host. Host also had an interception.
The Owls finish the season 8-2 overall and won their second straight North Star League championship.
“Looking back, we had an excellent year, a record setting year and we hosted our first ever playoff game,” Whitley said. “No, we didn’t win that game but we fought hard and we won the league for the second year in a row and to our players and coaching staff that is a big deal. We only lost two games and won eight, most of which pretty convincingly. I thought it was a great season and I can’t say enough about what the kids do on the field and off the field for the community. The kids do a lot for the community because the community gives back to us and gives us a lot of support.”
Oscoda will take a heavy hit to graduation in the off-season, but the Owls hope that with the core they have coming back they can make another run. After all, on top of winning back-to-back league titles, they have gone 8-1 in each of the last two regular seasons and have made the playoffs four out of the last five years.
“We have things to look forward to next season and hopefully we can keep working hard and come out and have a great year,” Whitely said. “We’ll get them in the weight room and start working again and we should have great success again.”