East Sac County scored a touchdown with 30 seconds left to play to defeat the Cherokee Braves 20-14 in a battle of the winless here Friday night.
The heart-breaking loss for the Braves, who led much of the game, and 14-12 until that final Raider score, was very much avoidable throughout as Cherokee let go of several scoring opportunities through costly turnovers, questionable penalties negating positive plays on both ends of the ball, and faulty defensive coverage on critical Raider pass plays.
"We just didn't make the plays when we needed them," said Cherokee coach Travis Schipper. "We had our chances. We're really struggling. The kids need to believe we can win and at times I don't think they do. We had several calls go against us at inopportune times that took scoring opportunities away from us."
The Braves led 7-6 at halftime after workhorse running back Luke Zeimen busted loose for a beauteous 83-yard touchdown in the first quarter, with Grayson Roosa punctuating that TD with a PAT kick.
East Sac County answered with a 12-yard TD pass from QB Tyler Jacobsen to Cody Wellington late in the second period, with that PAT failing.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Braves forged ahead 14-6 in the fourth frame on a sweet 30-yard TD run by Marc Husman, with another Roosa PAT going through the uprights.
However, the Raiders answered again when Caleb Heun blocked a punt deep in Cherokee territory and scooped the ball up into the endzone to pull within 14-12 after Jacobsen's two-point conversion pass failed.
A couple possessions later after a short Cherokee punt that gave the Raiders good field position, coupled with another shaky late hit penalty against the Braves, ESC penetrated and tallied the winning TD on a one-yard run by Jacobsen and a successful two-point conversion with 30 seconds left in the game to seal the deal.
Cherokee rushed the ball 43 times for 195 yards, with Zeimen leading the way with 26 carries for 166 yards, and Husman adding 10 hauls for 42 yards. Cherokee QB Levi Lundquist completed 3-11 passes for 41 yards and one interception.
ESC rushed for just 65 yards on 30 carries, with Chris Villhauer leading the way with 15 carries for 64 yards. Jacobsen was 14-30 passing for 103 yards.
The Braves were penalized eight times for 95 yards, and the Raiders just three times for 15 yards, with the officials missing or erroneously flagging several calls along the way.
Skyler Mongan led the Cherokee defense with a dozen tackles, while Matt Aguirre tallied eight, and Stetson Dagel and Chase Wiese six apiece. Dagel, Wiese, and Lane Peterson had QB sacks for the Braves.
"We can't fault our kids' effort, but we have to figure out what it takes to win and we're not doing that," explained coach Schipper. We gave them a couple short fields and they capitalized on them in a game we should have been able to win."
The 0-7 Braves travel to #1 Boyden-Hull-Rock Valley Friday to take on the 7-0 Nighthawks.