VICTORIA, Kan. - Victoria missed senior quarterback Cooper Windholz, a two-year starter, because of a knee injury. Freshman Grant Schoenrock stepped in under center for Friday’s Eight-Man, Division I bracket game against Leoti-Wichita County.
In the contest, Victoria quickly fell down by two touchdowns. Overall, the Knights committed five turnovers and had 13 penalties. Still, the Knights, led by an all-around team effort, delivered a 34-28 home victory Thursday night.
“We are playing for our first string quarterback that got hurt last week,” senior Wyatt Dreiling said. “So, did it for him.”
Victoria trailed 28-26 and faced 4th-and-3 from the Indian 4-yard line with 3 minutes, 59 seconds remaining. The Knights called two timeouts before senior Tyler Knoles ran around the left side for a touchdown.
“Obviously, they are playing us inside,” Victoria coach Doug Oberle said. “And we run a lot of stuff inside, and we put the ball in (Knoles’) hands, and he made a great run. I thought up front, we sealed the corner, which we struggled with.”
Junior Josh Schulte sealed the edge.
“You see a lot of stuff from the sideline that you want to be called, but you understand it’s part of the game,” Leoti first-year coach Brant Douglas said. “So, they got the outside hooked, and we couldn’t get out there.”
On the two-point conversion, Leoti nearly stopped Knoles for a loss on the right side but he reversed direction and went all the way around to the left for the two points.
In the first half, standout sophomore Leoti quarterback Kayde Rietzke suffered a wrist injury and didn’t return.
“After that, he couldn’t catch a snap right, so we couldn’t keep him in there,” Douglas said.
Senior Ronald Michel moved to quarterback. Leoti, known for a strong passing game, had trouble throwing the ball, especially in the second half on a muddy field drenched with rain throughout the day.
“With how wet it is, we couldn’t throw it the way we’d like to, and spread teams out like we’d normally would,” Douglas said.
After Knoles’ score, Leoti had two more chances. With 1:55 left, Dreiling rushed Michel off the edge and forced an incomplete pass on fourth down.
“It was kind of a thing we had planned last minute this week, and just went with it,” Dreiling said. “When they lined up like that, we had two people going, and I was one of them, so made it happen.”
The Indians got the ball back with 62 seconds remaining but missed on fourth and short from its own 34-yard line. Leoti was 0 of 3 passing on the two final drives.
Victoria moved to 7-2 and will play at second-ranked St. Francis (9-0) next week. It marked the Knights’ second big comeback in three weeks.
“We just do it for our community, town,” Dreiling said. “Just tradition here, so try to keep it going.”
Wichita County, one of the state’s most improved teams with Douglas, had its best season in more than 14 years with a 6-3 mark.
“They set a great precedent for the classes behind them,” Douglas said of his seniors.
Schoenrock, whose parents are Victoria faculty and football statisticians, had stood next to his parents on the Knight sideline last year and watched a 7-3 squad. Early in the week, Victoria knew Windholz wasn’t going to play.
“It was a lot of, ‘Well, I have been standing here for awhile, but I am ready to go,’” he said.
Victoria had five penalties early, mainly because of cadence issues, and trailed 14-0 with 3:13 remaining in the first quarter.
“We don’t start a game,” Oberle said. “We are absolutely horrible in the first quarter of every game we play. That’s a problem. We finally kind of figure out that we’ve got to get off the ball, block people.”
However, Schoenrock raced 35 yards for a score just before the end of the first. He added a 40-yard TD in the second quarter and a 28-yard scoring run in the third. Overall, he tallied 15 carries for a game-high 134 yards.
“Grant is a kid that has got some ability,” Oberle said. “We just got to put him in a position to be successful, and sometimes I did, and sometimes I did not.”
Rietzke and Michel combined for 10 of 27 passing for 123 yards. Sophomore Jesse Gardner tallied 11 carries for 62 yards and two touchdowns, while Rietzke had 11 for 51, and Michel 18 for 35.
“Defensively, at times, we were just really, really bad again,” Oberle said. “We are letting guys get behind us. Up front, we are not doing our jobs, but I thought in the second half, minus a couple of plays, these guys can play good defense. We can be a good defensive team if we just do our jobs.”
Leoti took a 20-14 lead early in the second half on a 25-yard run from Gardner. Victoria senior Walker Braun, banged up throughout the year, struggled in the first half against Leoti’s 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior tight end Sonnie Altman. In the second, he had a key pass defended and an interception.
The pick eventually led to a fumble by Victoria at the Leoti 3-yard line with 3:20 remaining in the third. Three plays later, Dreiling stripped the Indians of the ball and raced 15 yards for a touchdown and 20-20 game.
“Walker is a kid that makes plays for us,” Oberle said. “There was a couple of times early he didn’t, but he is a big play guy, and he can get after the ball when it’s in the air, and when he gets it, he does a good job. Wyatt has got all the tools. Nobody works harder than Wyatt Dreiling. Nobody.”
Three snaps after that, Knoles intercepted Michel, and Schoenrock tallied a touchdown for a 26-20 lead with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“It was quite nerve-wracking to begin with, but as I started getting into the game, it became more natural habit, just back to the basics,” Schoenrock said.
Leoti regained the lead again with nine minutes left on a 41-yard pass to sophomore Teagan Bishop. Victoria, trailing by two, then tallied the game winner off Knoles’ run.