MALVERN - If “three yards and a cloud of dust” is as old of a football adage as it is passé in today’s era of the spread offense then Friday night in Malvern must have looked like throwback night.
A-H-S-T and East Mills engaged in a good, old fashioned slug fest that featured a combined 93 rushing attempts as the Vikings rode the game’s lone touchdown to a 10-0 victory over the Wolverines to stay perfect on the season and seal up the top spot in Class 1A, District 8.
The game had the makings of a defensive struggle from the opening kick. The two teams combined for 61 total yards and zero points.
East Mills never seemed to click on offense in the first half, turning the ball over on its opening drive and twice more in the first half. The Wolverines lone first half offensive bright spot came via a bobbled Viking long snap on a punt that gave them the ball inside the 11. But East Mills was unable to move the ball in three plays before attempting a Travis Tupper 29 yard field goal that went wide right.
The Vikings began to gain some momentum off the miss and opened the second frame on a 13-play drive capped by Steven Jacobsen’s 41-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Following a Wolverines turnover on the ensuing possession, Viking quarterback Nathan Herbst raced around the right side on an option keeper for a 45-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
It was all the state ranked No. 4 Vikings would need.
“We knew they would fly around and they would be pretty tough,” said East Mills coach Andy Irwin after the game. “I’m happy with our kids’ effort. A-H-S-T is a great team and they’ve been putting a lot of points on the board and we able to stop them and they have great athletes across the board. I don’t think they have a weak spot.”
The second half, the two teams combined for just five possessions.
After the holding on a fourth-and-one backed up into their own endzone, East Mills marched from their own two yard line to the Vikings 12 on a 17 play drive that ate up nearly eight minutes of clock. But again, the Wolverines would miss a field goal that would have cut the lead to one touchdown with a little over 10 minutes to go in the game.
East Mills forced a punt on the ensuing possession to get the ball back with just over seven minutes to go and needing two scores. The Wolverines, however were not able to sustain a drive and were forced to punt with 29 with 3:53 to go after a sack left them at fourth-and-23.
The Wolverines never got the ball back as A-H-S-T got two first downs and Herbst knelt twice to run out the clock.
For the game, the Vikings out-gained East Mills 289 to 156. The Wolverines finished with 127 yards rushing on 42 carries (3.0 yards per carry).
Irwin felt like his team had chances to turn the momentum but never seemed to get over the hump.
“We had a lot of opportunities and they just stepped up and played well,” Irwin said. “A-H-S-T was just a better team than us tonight.”
The shutout was the second this season the Wolverines have suffered since starting quarterback Logan Currin was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Irwin though Jacob Schafer did a nice job under center but the Vikings’ defense didn’t make anything easy.
“We do get into some funks offensively but they did a great job coming up and taking things away from us,” Irwin said.
The loss hurts the Wolverines’ playoff hopes but in now way are they out of it, said Irwin. But with just two games remaining and a logjam all fighting for the final three post-season spots, the Wolverines likely need to win both of their final two games to guarantee the playoffs.
“This is a tough district. It’s wide open right now,” Irwin said. “I feel confident (we’re in) but you never know.”
The Wolverines head to Griswold for a District 8 showdown Friday.