In their tenth game of the season, with a record of 8-1 coming into the state quarterfinal, the Scotties were used to cruising to easy victories, it seemed.
And yet the Nov. 9, 2013 victory would become the hardest they had to fight for, facing not only the tough 2011 state champion Fairfield Eagles but also perhaps the sloppiest game Glasgow itself has played.
Interceptions, fumbles, failed kicks, incomplete passes ... these anxieties punctuated the dramatic game that seemed to be highlighted by missed opportunities. That is, until the last 29.2 seconds, when Johnathon Koessl scored the go-ahead touchdown on a three-yard rush that sent the Scotties on top for good, 19-14.
Koessl also opened with Glasgow's first touchdown, a three-yard rush only three minutes into the first quarter.
The Scotties' first half was ridden with a fumble, seven penalties, and seven incomplete passes out of 14 attempts.
"As the kids were playing with great intensity and emotion for such big playoff game, the fatigue really started to show with the number of penalties and missed tackles that occurred," said head coach Greg Liebelt.
However, the Scotties came out like a new team in the second half.
"They were more motivated," Liebelt said. "They understood that if they wanted to keep their dream alive of playing for the state championship, they need to stay focused, improve execution, and dig down deep inside to overcome their fatigue."
Fairfield, perhaps the sharper team in the first half, nevertheless had its share of miscues (one interception, one fumble, seven incomplete passes out of 13 attempts, and four penalties). The Eagles lead the Scotties at half time, 14-7.
After scoring on a nine-yard pass touchdown in the third quarter from Jason Thibault to Keil Krumwiede, Glasgow had two huge opportunities to at least tie the game before the final four minutes of the game. But two failed routine kicks by Hinsdale's Valentin Robert, ruled too wide, loomed like a bad omen over the Scotties. Thus the score remained at 14-13 in Fairfield's favor with only 34 seconds left in the game. The red side of the bleachers was in nail-biter mode while the blue-clads were anxious for celebration.
It wasn't over yet for Glasgow. After Robert's 31-yard field goal kick failed in the fourth quarter at 4:43, Fairfield took possession looking to extend its lead. With its offense stalled by a series of tackles made by Keil Krumwiede, Dallas Capdeville, Tanner Roness and Harley Eliason, and by Fairfield's own penalty, Fairfield opted to punt on fourth down from the 24-yard line. The ball went straight up in the air and landed at Fairfield's 37-yard line, perhaps giving Glasgow one last chance at survival.
With about 2:30 remaining, Scottie quarterback Jason Thibault passed to Chase Fossum; no good. Thibault's next pass to Koessl was complete at the 24-yard line. Koessl ran the ball to the 17-yard line, good enough for a first down.
At 1:21, Thibault passed to Fossum in the end zone – incomplete – but two flags were thrown and the referees ruled pass interference against Fairfield. On the next play, the Scotties were flagged for holding, which moved the ball back – and mistakenly the down marker was changed to second and 17. In fact, it should have remained first down, but it did not matter for the Scotties as destiny seemed to be on their side. On the next play, Thibault pitched the ball to Koessl, who rushed for nine long yards on the right. Roness gained about two more yards before he was piled under the do-or-die Fairfield defense at the 3-yard line.
As the entire stadium held its breath, Koessl dove the ball in on the left side behind Luke Gunderson, Capdeville and Krumwiede for the three-yard, go-ahead touchdown with only 29 seconds left on the clock. Scottie Nation, along with supporters from Malta, exploded in cheers while the Fairfield team stood stunned in disbelief. The Scotties tried unsuccessfully for the 2-point conversion, leaving the scoreboard at 19-14. After Glasgow's last kickoff to the Eagles, Zach Miller and Eliason made the final tackles to seal the Scotties' victory.
"Defense is what wins championship," Liebelt said. "Even though our defense made mistakes early on, it played well enough for us to win. It held Fairfield scoreless in the second half, and that speaks volume for such a powerful offensesive team."
Glasgow was also able to tailor its offensive scheme to Fairfield's spread-out defense style.
"Our offensive strategy is to take advantage of what Fairfield's defense gave us," Liebelt explained. "As Fairfield was spreading out their secondary to cover Glasgow's receivers and double covering either Fossum or Krumwiede, we ran the ball a lot inside with great success."
In the first half, Glasgow's offense had 16 rushes for 80 yards and 14 passes for 91 yards, for a total of 171 yards offense. In the second half, Glasgow's offense improved to 22 rushes for 115 yards and 17 passes for 69 yards, for a total of 184 yards offense. The Scotties' total offense for the game was 355 yards.
In contrast, in the first half Fairfield had 21 rushes for 117 yards and 13 passes for 97 yards, for a total of 214 yards. In the second half, Fairfield dropped to 17 rushes for 81 yards and six passes for 29 yards, for a total of 110 yards. Fairfield's total offense for the game was 324 yards.
A year after Glasgow's emotional 27-26 victory over defending the state championship Fairfield Eagles, Glasgow knew that it had to come out ahead quickly. Thibault was able to connect with Fossum on a long pass at the 21-yard line, and Koessl completed the three-yard dash to score the first touchdown at 9:29. The extra point kick by Robert put Glasgow on the scoreboard, 7-0. However, the Scottie faithful would not celebrate for long as the momentum was about to shift.
With Fairfield's regular quarterback Dalton Palmer injured, sophomore Tanner Mayer stepped up quickly to lead the team.
"Watching Mayer on film before, we knew he'd be starting," Liebelt said. "We felt he was probably the better passing QB for Fairfield."
At first, Glasgow was able to douse Fairfield's offense with quick three-and-outs, then Koessl fumbled a handoff exchange from Thibault that was recovered by the Eagles at the 8-yard line. Mayer, wide open, outran the defense to put Fairfield on the board. Morgan Schenk tied the game at 8:29 with a successful PAT kick.
Even though Glasgow later created two turnovers – an interception by Koessl and fumble recovery by Luke Gunderson – Glasgow could not convert against Fairfield's stingy defense. Fairfield's breakthrough came in the middle of the second quarter, as Mayer found Austin Batson on a 47-yard pass with Fossum chasing just behind. Another good PAT kick by Schenk put Fairfield in the lead at halftime, 14-7.
In the second half, the Scotties kept the penalties down to only four while the Eagles committed eight penalties and four turnovers. At the start of the third quarter, Koessl and Thibault treaded through a succession of gains and setbacks to finally bring the ball to the 35-yard line on a pass to Krumwiede. However, the Eagles soon intercepted a pass from Thibault to Krumwiede in the end zone.
Lachlan Vaira and Chase Fossum helped slow the Fairfield offense, as each took down the Eagles' powerhouse runners Mayer and Schenk twice. Avenging the interception just four minutes earlier, Krumwiede stole a pass in the third quarter at Fairfield's 21-yard line. At third down and nine, Thibault connected with Krumwiede for Glasgow's second touchdown. However, the PAT kick by Robert failed to tie the game and it was 14-13, Fairfield.
After another Fairfield fumble, Glasgow was looking to regain the lead. However, the tide changed again as a long pass from Thibault to Koessl was intercepted by Cade Heckman at Fairfield's 37 yard line.
Not to be outdone, Fossum returned the favor by intercepting the ball back from the Eagles at the 49. The crowd's emotion soared as Robert was called up again at 4:43 for a field goal attempt. Officials ruled it wide right. The ups and downs of this game defined how closely matched these two teams were.
Glasgow (9-1) advances onto the semifinal matchup Saturday, Nov. 6, with Baker (10-0), the only team that has dealt Glasgow a loss this season. Baker won, 34-0, in the second game. Known for its power running, Baker challenges their opponents to stop their rushing attack, which few are able to do.
"Glasgow will be a much different team than when we last traveled to Baker, with the defense playing solidly and Thibault back in the passing game," said Liebelt.
Quarterback Thibault was injured on the fifth offensive play of the Sept. 13 game in Baker with a severe hand laceration and had to exit the game. With Chase Fossum filling in as the backup quarterback, the Scotties' offensive aerial attack was pretty much grounded for the remainder of the game. Having earned a bitter-to-the-end victory against Fairfield has only strengthened the team's resolve for revenge.
Game time is at 1 p.m. Saturday at Baker High School. Ticket prices are $7 for adults and $6 for students. Gates open at 11 a.m. Missoula Loyola (9-0) will host Boulder's Jefferson High School (10-1) in the other Class B semifinal game.
If the Scotties were to win, the championship game would be in Glasgow regardless of the other semifinal's outcome.