MEDINA — Even for a strong offensive team, and even in front of a boisterous homecoming crowd, an early three-touchdown deficit can pose a daunting comeback challenge. Such was the case on Friday night, when the Mustangs football team fell behind 19-0 before it ran even three offensive snaps.
Medina fell victim to a botched kickoff return and two early fumbles in creating the deficit, and the mistakes were ultimately too costly to overcome. The Mustangs made a heroic fourth-quarter comeback, but it wasn't quite enough, and Medina fell 31-30 to Lew-Port in a Class B North game at Veterans Park on Friday night.
The first-quarter woes started on the opening kickoff, as Ben McPherson failed to make clean contact and the ball failed to reach midfield. The Lancers took over and quickly drove for an opening touchdown, and Lew-Port took the ball over again when Medina fumbled the ensuing kickoff at its own 16-yard line.
Lew-Port took advantage with a one-yard touchdown run, and the Lancers offense quickly regained possession yet again when Munjie Brown fumbled at the 24-yard line on Medina's first offensive possession. Lew-Port used a quick four-play drive to score its third rushing touchdown of the first quarter, and the Lancers took a 19-0 lead with 1:31 left in the quarter.
But the early score was certainly no true indication of the Mustangs' talent and ability, and junior quarterback Jason Hellwig's offense proved it almost immediately. Medina took much better care of the ball on its next offensive possession, as the Mustangs moved inside the Lew-Port 30-yard line on two big runs by Brown. The team capped off a six-play drive with a 19-yard toss from Hellwig to budding star sophomore wideout Dylan Lewis in the back of the end zone, and the two-point conversion attempt was successful on a play-action pass from Hellwig to Kyle Barna.
The rest of the half was scoreless, as Lew-Port's defense held strong on a Medina drive inside the red zone in the half's waning minutes. With 1:56 to play in the half, a fourth-and-10 pass from the 14-yard line intended for Lewis in double coverage fell incomplete, and the intermission score was 19-8 Lew-Port.
When the teams returned to the field after the traditional halftime announcement of the homecoming court, Medina's effort remained strong. The Mustangs took the opening kickoff and embarked on a nine-play, 65-yard drive in under four minutes, capped off with a six-yard touchdown run by Brown. The two-point play was successful on a pass from Hellwig to Brett Pecoraro, and just like that the early deficit was nearly erased, as Lew-Port's advantage was cut to 19-16.
After the teams traded possessions, Lew-Port's Noah Swenson broke through the defensive front for a 60-yard touchdown run with 2:54 left in the third quarter, and the Lancers lead was up to 25-16.
Then after a gorgeous punt by Hellwig inside the 10-yard line, Lew-Port came up with the play that could have served as the backbreaker for Medina's hopes. On the first play of the fourth quarter, on second-and-12 from its own seven-yard line, Lew-Port scored on a textbook 88-yard catch-and-run play to receiver Dan Hogan, who caught the ball near midfield and sprinted down the left sideline into the end zone. Lew-Port took the 31-16 lead, and Medina looked like a long shot to fight back from a daunting deficit for the second time.
But the fireworks were just beginning, as Brown fumbled the ensuing kickoff but picked the ball back up and zig-zagged his way to the 45-yard line. Hellwig then directed a quick five-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a 27-yard touchdown strike to Lewis in the corner of the end zone. Brown ran in the two-point try to make it 31-24 with 9:29 to play.
Lew-Port fumbled on the first play of its next drive, and Medina sophomore Noah Banazwski recovered to give the Mustangs great field position at the Lancer 36 yard-line. Brown spun his way down inside the red zone on the next play, and Barna scored on a 10-yard run up the middle two plays later to make the score 31-30. The two-point try failed, however, so Lew-Port retained the lead with 7:42 to play.
Medina was forced to punt on its next possession, and Lew-Port had a chance to run out the clock in the game's final minutes. On a third-and-eight from its own 32 with 2:12 to play, Lew-Port could secure a victory with a first down.
But the Lancers fumbled the toss and Medina took over at the Lew-Port 29, setting the stage for a gripping final two minutes of play at Veterans Park on a beautiful October night. Brown ran for seven yards on the ensuing handoff, and Barna then ran for four, bringing Medina to the 17-yard line with just over a minute remaining.
But it wasn't meant to be. After an incompletion intended for Lewis in the end zone, Hellwig was intercepted on a second-and-10 pass intended for Barna at the goal line. Just like that, the comeback fell just short, and the Lancers took a knee to run out the clock.
This concludes the home portion of the regular-season schedule for the Mustangs, who travel to play Bennett this Saturday at 2 p.m. Medina then concludes its season Oct. 18 in a road test at rival Albion.