TOLEDO – Finally, on its last night of the season, the Little Giant football team played the brand of football head coach Chad Long loves so much.
With quarterback Hayden Lehmann hampered and slowed by an ankle injury, the Little Giants turned to the run game. With senior Ethan Chumley churning out tough yards between the tackles, Ross played an old-school style of football. The run game set up a limited, but effective, passing game that scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to take a 26-14 win over St. Francis to end the season on a high note.
“This is my style of football. I love smash-mouth,” Long said. “We stuck with the run. I had faith in my big boys, they had a lot of confidence for last week and the pass would be there once (St. Francis’ defense) started loading the box and that’s what we did.”
St. Francis took a 14-13 lead on the second play of the fourth quarter on a 33-yard scramble for a touchdown by Jakiel Wells.
But the Little Giants’ special teams came up with one of the game’s biggest turning points. After its go-ahead touchdown, St. Francis’ next possession ended with a three-and-out at its own 15-yard line. The ensuing punt was blocked by Jason Burling, setting the Little Giants up with the ball at the Knights’ 18. Three plays later, Lehmann connected with Bryce McKinstry for a 15-yard touchdown and a 19-14 lead.
“Ever since freshman year, we’ve always had that connection, he’d make one-handed catches or something crazy,” Lehmann said of he and McKinstry’s success through the air. “And, as the years went on, we stayed together. I really trust him a lot and he’s a great player.”
The Little Giants’ next possession ended in a punt from their own 35-yard line, but the punt was muffed by St. Francis and recovered by senior Ben Mosser at the Knights’ 20-yard line with less than four minutes to play.
On fourth-and-nine from the Knights’ 19-yard line, Lehmann threw the final pass of his career which went for a 19-yard touchdown, once again to McKinstry, with 90 seconds remaining in the game. The score not only sealed the win for the Little Giants, it also gave McKinstry his 10th touchdown catch of the season, setting a new single-season record for touchdown receptions, surpassing the record of nine held by Mike Matthes and Jeffrey Barnett.
“I didn’t know that. That’s amazing,” said McKinstry, who has played the last three games with a cast due to a fracture in his hand. “Me and Hayden, we just have chemistry. He believes in me and I feel like the cast has actually made me more confident in my hands. I just feel like I don’t notice it’s there. People joke I’m better with it and I think I agree with them.”
McKinstry has 13 career touchdowns, putting him second all-time behind Terrence Davis’ 15 from 2006-2008.
“Good for him,” Long said of McKinstry. “He deserves it. He worked his tail off. I can’t say enough about Bryce.”
Lehmann finished the night 8-of-14 passing for 95 yards.
Noah Hotz, who earlier this season broke the program’s record for career receptions, finished the night with three catches, ending his career total at 95. He caught 53 passes this season, just two shy of Russ Yeast’s single-season record of 55.
After a scoreless first quarter, St. Francis struck first off the game’s first miscue.
Stalled at midfield, a Little Giant punt was blocked and recovered by the Knights and returned to Ross’ 15-yard line. The following play, Malachi Wyse scored on a 15-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
The Little Giants, however, knotted the game before halftime, capping a 50-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown by Chumley.
Chumley was busy all night long. He carried the ball 15 times in the first half, more than half of Ross’ 28 first-half offensive plays, totaling 61 yards, and finished the game with 82 yards on 31 carries.
“I’m drained but I feel that’s the best way to go out,” Chumley said. “I definitely gave it my all tonight. The O-line played amazing, they set the tone from the start. It was a great game.”
Chumley had a scary moment in the fourth quarter. Going for a 2-point conversion after McKinstry’s first touchdown, Chumley’s leg was twisted awkwardly under him as he was tackled short of the goal line. Despite the scary appearance of the tackle, he returned to the game on Ross’ next possession to help the Little Giants put the game away.
“Ethan Chumley had a nasty hit, I thought it was broke,” Long said. “He said, ‘I’m playing, I don’t care.’ And we needed him. He was our workhorse tonight and he did awesome tonight. I’m very proud of him.”
While Chumley spearheaded the Little Giant rushing attack, the defense did a stellar job bottling up Knights’ senior Malachi Wyse, who entered the game the TRAC’s leading rusher with over 1,400 yards.
Wyse totaled just 53 yards on 20 carries, including just eight yards on nine carries in the second half, and the Little Giant defenders allowed only 151 total yards of offense to the Knights.
“To walk off this field with a W, it’s great,” senior linebacker Caleb Wood said. “I know the underclassmen gave it their all and it gives me hope for the upcoming kids and their futures.”
Added Wood: “The bonds we’ve created, it’s a huge family. I’m not really sad about not playing football anymore, I’m sad about losing all these friends I’ve made.”
The season ends with Fremont Ross posting its second-consecutive overall record of 5-5, while going 4-3 in the TRAC. It didn’t end with a playoff berth as the Little Giants had hoped for when the season began but ending on a positive note sure beats the alternative.
“It’s nice these kids battled, they didn’t give up and there was ups and downs the whole night,” Long said. “They didn’t give up. They played with heart.
“Nothing’s quite gone right for us the last couple of years, but I am grateful these guys got to go out with a win.”
Fremont Ross 26, St. Francis 14
FR| 0 – 7 – 6 – 13 – 26
SF| 0—7 – 0 – 7 – 14
SF – Malachi Wyse 15 run (No. 85 kick), 8:05
FR – Ethan Chumley 7 run (Alec Slemmer kick), 1:37
FR – Chumley 5 run (kick fail), 4:59
SF – Jakiel Wells 33 run (No. 85 kick), 11:23
FR – Bryce McKinstry 15 pass from Hayden Lehmann (run fail), 7:01
FR – McKinstry 19 from Lehmann (Slemmer kick), 1:30
RUSHING – Ethan Chumley 31-82; Caleb Wood 7-33; Spencer Price 2-1; Hayden Lehmann 2- (-8).
PASSING – Hayden Lehmann 8-14 2 TD, 0 INT
RECEIVING – Bryce McKinstry 5-74; Noah Hotz 3-21.