Herald Staff Report
Freshman Keegan Lass wasn’t even on the varsity when Central DeWitt lost its season-opening game to West Delaware.
Promoted to the varsity late in the year, Lass came through by kicking a 25-yard field goal with 49 seconds remaining Wednesday night to give the Sabers a 24-21 win against West Delaware in the opening round of the Iowa Class 3A football playoffs.
“We can’t ask for anything more out of Keegan,” Central DeWitt senior running back/linebacker Chris Keitel said. “He’s done a hell of a job. To step up and win a state playoff game at West Delaware when they’re ranked sixth took a lot of guts.”
It was the second game in a row that Lass scored the final points in a DeWitt victory. Last Friday, his 21-yard field goal in the fourth quarter was the difference as the Sabers beat Marion 17-16 in his varsity debut.
“What a great story,” Central DeWitt coach Mike Miller said. “A young man was given an opportunity, and he’s making the most of it. He was calm, cool and collected and split the uprights.”
Now, the Sabers and Marion, who shared the 3A District 6 title with Solon, will meet again in a second-round matchup at 7 p.m. Monday in Marion.
“This is a huge win for us, especially going up to their place,” Keitel said.
“It’s a big stepping stone for our program,” Miller said. “West Delaware is an outstanding program, year in and year out. For our kids to go up there and do what they did, I’m very pleased.”
The Sabers (7-3) advanced by surviving a West Delaware comeback that allowed the Hawks to pull even at 21 after trailing 21-6 earlier in the fourth quarter.
“We were looking behind us at our fans and they were sitting down and being quiet,” Keitel said. “We knew we had to get them back on their feet. We said, ‘Hey boys, let’s do it. Let’s go on a three-minute, game-winning drive.’”
A key play on the eight-play, 58-yard drive that took 4:31 off the clock was a 33-yard run by Keitel, with horse-collar penalty that made it a 43-yard gain.
“We had success with that play all game,” Keitel said. “They weren’t reading it correctly. They were coming down on the quarterback and leaving me open. Our slotbacks were getting to the second level and taking on their linebackers. I just had to make a cut and there was daylight.”
They converted one fourth down from the West Delaware 10-yard line when Keitel ran for 3 yards on fourth-and-2.
“That was a tough decision (to go for it),” Miller said. “There was a lot of time left on the clock. We’d done a nice job establishing ourselves between the tackles. The way Chris was running, we felt confident giving him the ball.”
He carried again on the next play, getting the Sabers to the 1, but West Delaware stopped Keitel for no gain on second down, and the Sabers were penalized 10 yards for holding as Austin Lechtenberg was dropped for a 2-yard loss on third down. The Hawks took the penalty, sending the Sabers back to the 13 for third-and-goal, and quarterback Mitch Green ran for 5 yards to the 8 to set up the winning field goal.
The Hawks returned to the ensuing kickoff to their 32-yard line, but four consecutive incompletions sealed the win for Central DeWitt.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Green’s third touchdown run of the game expanded DeWitt’s lead to 21-6 with 9:23 remaining.
But West Delaware (7-3) came right back with a four-play, 69-yard drive that included a pair of big plays from sophomore quarterback Brent Lammers. He ran for 30 yards, then passed to Jacyn Goebel for 28 more that set up the Hawks at the DeWitt 1. On the next play, Lammers took the ball into the end zone to make it 21-13 with 7:54 left.
West Delaware kept the momentum going following the kickoff as the defense stuffed the Sabers twice and forced a fumble on third down that Jake Voss recovered at the Central DeWitt 37.
Lammers broke off a 28-yard run that set up a first-and-goal at the 8, then Dudak carried to the 1 on the next play. Lammers was stopped short of the goal line on second down but scored on the next play to cut the gap to 21-19 with 5:20 remaining. He then rolled right and cut up to score on the two-point play to tie the game at 21-21.
Dudak rushed for 181 yards in the first meeting between the teams and had 1,724 for the season coming in. This time he was held to 36 yards on 11 carries.
“Coming in, Dudak was the leading rusher in 3A, so we knew we had to slow him down,” Keitel said. “Once we did that, things went our way. ... We got everything we wanted defensively.”
Keitel was the one who stole the rushing show. His 188 yards put him over 1,000 for the year to 1,170.
“It’s been a goal for me all year,” Keitel said. “I knew coming into tonight, I’d have to have a big game. I didn’t expect to have this big of a game, though. I owe a lot to the line, the other backs and our quarterback, Mitch Green, for making the right reads. They put us in this situation and put me in this situation to get over 1,000 yards.”
Green helped the Sabers build a 7-0 lead with 7:41 left in the first quarter when he scored on a 23-yard run to cap a five-play, 44-yard drive.
Helped by a Mitch Kirby interception of a Lammers pass in the end zone on a fourth-and-10 throw from the 43, it appeared that lead would hold until halftime.
But the Sabers had to punt, and West Delaware got the ball back at its 7 with less than a minute left. Lammers dropped back into his end zone and found Jack Curley open around the 30. Curley caught the pass and raced to the end zone for a 93-yard pass play with 41 seconds left. The Sabers kept their lead, though, when the snap on the kick attempt was off target and kicker Tim Tutton was stopped as he tried to run with the ball.
Other than that long touchdown, West Delaware gained only 25 first-half yards.
Central DeWitt extended its lead to 14-6 midway through the third quarter when Green scored on a 3-yard run.
But in the end, it was the freshman Lass who was the hero. The Sabers needed a new kicker when foreign-exchange student Patrick Haller — who was 19 of 19 on extra points — went down with an ankle injury.
“We saw what Keegan did at the freshman level — didn’t miss an extra point and made some field goals — and it was a no-brainer,” Keitel said. “My gratitude goes to him.”
CENTRAL DEWITT 24, WEST DELAWARE 21
Central DeWitt 7 0 7 10 — 24
West Delaware 0 6 0 15 — 21
CD — Mitch Green 23 run (Keegan Lass kick), 7:41
WD — Jack Curley 93 pass from Brent Lammers (bad snap on PAT), :41
CD — Green 3 run (Lass kick), 4:38
CD — Green 1 run (Lass kick), 9:23
WD — Lammers 1 run (Tim Tutton kick), 7:54
WD — Lammers 1 run (Lammers run), 5:20
CD — FG Lass 25, :49
RUSHING — Central DeWitt (61-329), Chris Keitel 31-188, Mitch Green 20-79, Austin Lechtenberg 4-40, Jake Feldpausch 5-23; West Delaware, Brent Lammers 11-89, Ryan Dudak 15-36.
PASSING — Central DeWitt, Green 2-7-0, 18 yards; West Delaware, Lammers 8-19-2, 168 yards.
RECEIVING — Central DeWitt, Emmit Enyeart 1-11, Mitch Kirby 1-7; West Delaware, Jack Curley 3-101, Jacyn Goebel 3-44, Jake Voss 2-33.