CASS CITY — There have been tears shed on the Cass City sideline multiple times this season.
And that was the case Friday night, but for a different reason.
After three difficult losses crushed Cass City’s Greater Thumb West football title hopes, and put their shot at the playoffs in jeopardy, pride is flying high once again in Red Hawks’ country.
Cass City scored a touchdown with 21.7 seconds left to take a 26-22 lead against Reese in a key showdown with huge playoff implications. The Rockets’ answered seconds later on what appeared to be another heart-wrenching back-breaker for Cass City. But Ryan Maclin’s unbelievable 55-yard run, that came after catching a short pass from quarterback Jake Galsterer, as time expired was negated due to a Reese block in the back.
The Rockets were awarded one more offensive play, but a hail mary fell incomplete and Cass City finally had a feel good story, and more importantly still has a shot at the playoffs.
And the tears flowed — from the players, coaches and even some of the fans.
“It’s been one of those years where nuthin went our way,” said Cass City coach Scott Cuthrell. “And we thought the same thing was going to happen tonight, right up until the end.”
When the dust settled, the Red Hawks had earned a 26-22 win, improving to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the GTW. A win next week in the M-81 showdown at Caro and Cass City will be in the playoffs for the third year in a row. Reese, meanwhile is also 5-3 (2-3 in the GTW), but hosts a 6-2 Essexville Garber squad that has only lost to Millington and Frankenmuth this year, who are both in the top-four in their respective divisions.
“Give our kids credit, they hung in their, we talked to them at halftime, we put it on the senior’s shoulders,” Cuthrell said. “We challenged our seniors to come out and play some ball, and they took if from there.”
Senior running back Brad Hacker, especially, took the challenge to heart. Hacker ran for 194 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown, but his biggest play — which he said after game was the most memorable moment of his athletic career — was an 18-yard reception late in the fourth quarter.
Leading 22-20 Reese had the football at its own 28-yard line after the Red Hawks turned the ball over on downs with just under two minutes remaining. The Rockets attempted to run the clock out, running the ball up the middle three consecutive times. Cass City used its last two time outs on first and second down, but Reese was able to run the clock down to 46 seconds before Galsterer let a punt fly on fourth down. The kick went high into the air, where the wind pushed it back towards the Rockets’ side of the field. And after a home-team hop, Cass City was in business at the Reese 33 yard line. That was break number one. The second came two plays later when Reese was called for pass-interference, giving Cass City a first down with 27 seconds left at the Reese 18. On the next play, freshman quarterback, and coach’s son, Sandyn Cuthrell completed his first pass attempt of the game, hitting Hacker at the one-yard line. The senior took a hit, then fell into the end zone.
“It feels amazing, we just kept fighting,” Hacker said. “I don’t know, the good lord came through for us.”
But with 21.7 seconds left, everyone on the Cass City sideline, and in the home-team bleachers, knew the game wasn’t over yet. And the Red Hawk’s worst fear came to fruition when Galsterer connected with Maclin on a curl route, and Maclin shook every would-be tackler Cass City threw at him. Maclin powered and finessed his way into the end zone, and was mobbed by his teammates.
But a yellow flag lay near the Red Hawks’ 35 yard line.
After a few minutes of discussion, the officials called a block in the back on Reese. The penalty occurred at the 35, giving the Rockets one more play from the Cass City 45. Finally, when Galsterer’s final pass hit the turf, the Cass City faithful let out a big sigh of relief.
“That’s what we needed, to get a win like this,” Cuthrell said. “It’s great for our momentum and it keeps us alive for the playoffs.”
The previous three loses Cass City suffered each came at the hands of a Division 7 top 10 team, and each was by one score or less when the Red Hawks actually had a lead in the last two minutes of the game. Cass City lost in Week 1 to No. 6 Ubly 22-16, and later to GTW opponents Unionville-Sebewaing Area (24-22 on a last-second touchdown) and Laker (26-20). Laker and USA are tied for No. 9 in D-7 in the most recent associated press poll. Reese, too, fell victim to Laker (26-20) and USA (20-12) in a pair of close games.
Friday’s contest started out more like a track meet than a football game. The two squads traded big plays and Reese grabbed a 22-14 lead with only six minutes gone by in the first quarter. But both teams settled into a more typical pound-it-out style GTW game.
“We didn’t play a good first half, we know that,” Cuthrell said. “And credit goes to our guys, they buckled down and played their butts off.”
Reese struck first as Galsterer scored on a 10-yard TD run which was set up by his own 43-yard scamper. On Cass City’s second offensive play, Hacker broke a 59-yard run that got the Red Hawks inside the Reese 10-yard line. Nick Perry scored a two-yard TD two plays later. Reese answered on the ensuing kickoff when Hartman grabbed the short kick, and raced up the left sideline for a 68 return touchdown. Not to be outdone, Cass City’s T.J. Moore busted an 80-yard TD run on his team’s first play after the kickoff. Finally, on the third play of Reese’s next drive, Galsterer connected with Maclin over the middle for what ended up being a 63-yard scoring strike.
After the offensive barrage, which included successful two-point conversations for Reese from Mitchell Bender and Galsterer, and a Hacker two-point rush for Cass City, 36 points had been scored in the games first six minutes.
Cass City scored on its first drive of the second half — after 13 plays and taking over six minutes off the clock — on a Hacker six-yard TD run. But the two-point attempt failed and the Rockets still held a 22-20 lead.
Cass City outgained Reese offensively, grinding out 438 yards on the ground, and finishing with 456 yards to Reese’s 288.
“That was our goal, we wanted to keep pounding it,” Hacker said. “I don’t know what happened there in the first quarter, but we got back to Cass City football.”
Hacker, Moore (14 carries, 140 yards) and Perry (100 yards on 14 attempts) each eclipsed the century mark on the ground for the Red Hawks. Hacker also recorded an interception on defense.
Galsterer passed for 143 yards, on 5-of-12 attempts, one touchdown and one interception. He also led the Rockets in rushing with 66 yards on four carries. Mitchell Bender added 49 yards on the ground on nine attempts while Maclin finished with two catches for 96 yards. Galsterer recorded two interceptions from his defensive back position.