Dallas Center-Grimes battled back in a furious final three minutes against Grinnell on Monday, but came up just short in a season-ending 28-21 loss in Grimes.
The Mustangs were marching toward a game-tying score when Grinnell’s Christian Graham picked off quarterback Andrew Kramer with just over a minute to play, his second interception of the game.
"When you play the way we did tonight, there’s no shame in how this game came out," said coach Scott Heitland, whose team ended the year 9-2. "I’m so proud of the guys. They can walk off the field with their heads held high."
DC-G’s improbable comeback began with a fourth-and-17 play from its own 17-yard line and just over 3 minutes to play. The throw from Kramer caromed off a defender and into the hands of tight end Dakota Clausen, who took off down the sideline for a 61-yard gain. A 21-yard catch by Clausen took the Mustangs to the edge of the end zone, and Kramer punched it in from 1 yard out to pull DC-G to within seven, 21-14, with 2:47 left.
Grinnell recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Bryce Lidtka promptly ran 41 yards for a touchdown to push the lead back to 14, 28-14.
DC-G answered right back, and Kramer hit Keaton Means with a 25-yard strike to cut the deficit to seven with 1:40 left.
The Mustangs attempted another onside kick, and this time they recovered. Kicker Michael Lortz got a good bounce, and Doug Heritage recovered just inside the sideline.
Catches by Clausen and Keans took DC-G to the Grinnell 7. Kramer, who was hounded all night by an aggressive Grinnell defense that sacked him four times, was chased out of the pocket, and Graham nabbed the game-saving interception.
"They game-planned for Andrew tonight and just gave him fits, probably the most pressure he had on him all year," Heitland said.
Clausen, who caught nine passes for 162 yards, snagged an 18-yard touchdown pass from Kramer to put DC-G up 7-0 in the second quarter.
A personal foul on the extra-point kick allowed Grinnell to start its next drive at its own 41, and several plays later, Mustang safety Austin Kloewer was sidelined after a hard hit on Grinnell quarterback Eli Dunne. The force of the blow broke his helmet.
Grinnell went on to score, with Dunne throwing the first of his three touchdown passes on a 21-yard connection with Kenny Clark. It was the first time since DC-G’s Sept. 20 game with Grinnell that the defense allowed a touchdown.
"It obviously hurt because he’s such an integral part of what we do," Heitland said. "Austin is such a fireball on defense. He just makes plays all over the field."
Kramer was 21-of-46 passing for 312 yards and two touchdowns. Chaz Chambers, slowed by a thigh bruise, was limited to just 27 rushing yards. Dane Hansen caught five passes for 43 yards and Means caught three passes for 53 yards.
Jack Kelly finished with a team-high 12 tackles. Justin Gardner added 10 tackles and an interception, and Brevin Townsell had nine tackles. Austin Grosklags had two sacks among his eight tackles.
DC-G had reached the second round with a 21-0 victory over Humboldt on Oct. 30. The team piled up a season-high 342 rushing yards, including 178 by Chambers, 72 by Kramer and 92 by Noah Weeks.
Heitland credited the 18 seniors with a "program-changing" impact that saw DC-G go from 3-6 last year to 9-2 this year, and he hopes it’s a lasting impact.
"I think they have not only shown our younger kids the way to approach a season, and the way to practice, but also the way to make sure your team has the chemistry it needs," he said.
"It was the team, the cohesiveness, the chemistry, the brotherhood, the love that they had for one another that made this group so much fun and achieve the high level of success they had."