A tit-for-tat of a football game of almost 1,000 yards came down to 12 inches Saturday afternoon.
“I just wish it were 1000 yards and a half; us getting the half,” said Hendrix coach Buck Buchanan after a 45-41 loss to Washington University came down to a Hail Mary pass and a jump ball on the last play of the game.
With ball at the Wash U 35 and 3.7 seconds left, Hendrix quarterback Tanner Frye, a battlefield replacement for injured starter Seth Peters, lofted a high-arcing pass to the goal line. Hendrix wide receiver Spencer Smith, 6-foot-4, timed his jump perfectly near the end zone and came down with the ball falling backwards among three defenders. He landed a foot short of a touchdown and the Bears emerged from the pile celebrating a game won by less than the length of a football at Young-Wise Memorial Stadium.
The Bears (4-2) converted third-and-nine and third-and-three twice to drive 83 yards in 10 plays to score what proved to be the winning touchdown with 51 seconds left. They scored by eerily the same margin the Warriors (2-3) were denied. Zach Strittmatter, 6-4, caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Eric Dagninella, getting his feet inbounds by inches in the deep corner of the end zone.
It was the first home loss of the season for the Hendrix, a revived football program after 53 years with a freshman-laden squad. Washington University, an established program, played with 17 seniors and 15 juniors.
It was back-and-forth from the beginning with neither team leading by more than one score. The teams produced scores on 14 of 20 drives on the game. There were three punts and 972 total yards of offense (524 by the Bears and 448 by the Warriors).
“I don’t know if I could have asked anything more out of our kids,” Buchanan said. “They hung in there and never quit. It’s a matter of cutting out the small mistakes. Washington University has been a nationally respected program for a long time. At no time, did I think we were out of it. At no time did I see any quit. We’ve got the right people in our program.”
A pivotal twist occurred early in the fourth quarter after Peters reversed field on a scramble and fell hard to the ground at the Wash U 9.
The quarterback from Greenbrier limped off the field, had his left knee wrapped and spent the remainder of the game watching the action while rotating back and forth on a training table near the sideline.
Frye came in during the goal line situation. Dayton Winn was held to 5 yards on second down and Frye threw incomplete on third down. Stephen Crenshaw booted a 21-yard field goal to pull the Warriors within 38-34 with 12:55 left. After the Warriors held the Bears on downs at their 30, Frye and Winn (who rushed for 99 yards on 20 carries and returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown) produced a 70-yard drive in 10 plays with Frye scoring on a 4-yard keeper to put Hendrix up 41-38 with 4:56 left.
“We held Seth out as a precautionary measure; we’ll just have to see about the extent of the injury,” Buchanan said. “We’re fortunate we have two quarterbacks who are about the same. Our offense didn’t change when Seth went out. Tanner came in and drove us down the field at the end and gave us a chance. He may have slipped a bit on the pass and didn’t get it all the way into the end zone. But Spencer went up and got it.”
Daginella, a 6-2 senior, cooly engineered the 80-yard touchdown drive that took 4:00 off the clock.
“It was unfortunate that Seth got hurt toward the end of a series,” Buchanan said. “We missed rhythm a bit, they stopped us and we had to kick a field goal instead of getting a touchdown and that was the difference. I would much rather have been kicking a field goal at the end to win the game.”
The teams exchanged scores seven times. Hendrix produced scoring drives of 89 yards in 10 plays, 70 yards in 13 plays, 68 yards in eight plays and 70 yards in 10 plays. The Bears had scoring drives of 64 yards in 12 plays, 51 yards in seven plays, 74 yards in 12 plays, 69 yards in nine plays and 83 yards in 10 plays.
The Bears were able to punish the Warriors inside with runs by Zach Lonneman, who had 137 yards on 21 carries. Daginelli rushed for 83 yards on 10 carries and completed 19 of 32 passes for 220 yards. Peters completed 19 of 25 passes for 232 yards. Frye was seven of nine for 84 yards.
The Bears were seven of eight in the red zone; the Warriors were six of six.
Hendrix hosts Berry College, another startup program, next week