That's what happened in Arapahoe Tuesday, Nov. 6, as the host Warriors and Elm Creek collided in the Class D-1 (eight-man) playoff quarterfinals. Elm Creek rallied to tie the score in the fourth quarter, then Arapahoe drove for the winning touchdown with less than 20 seconds remaining to earn a 32-26 victory.
Arapahoe running back Gage Schutz sprinted to the end zone and dived across the goal line to complete a 20-yard scoring pass with just 14.5 seconds remaining.
Elm Creek is coached by former McCook High School football standout Jace Dueland, who finished 9-2 in his first head coaching season -- both losses coming to Arapahoe (host Arapahoe topped Elm Creek, 36-20, in a regular-season meeting Sept. 21).
Dueland watched his team battle back from a 26-13 third-quarter deficit in Tuesday's playoff epic to tally a pair of touchdowns in the fourth period to knot the score at 26-26.
Elm Creek upset D-1 West Bracket top seed Burwell 42-40 in second-round playoff action Oct. 31 when Burwell missed a last-season 35-yard field goal attempt, according to Coach Dueland.
AN ARAPAHOE penalty for running into the kicker during an Elm Creek punt on the first play of the fourth quarter gave Elm Creek a fourth down and 2 yards to go at the Buffaloes 38-yard line. After the penalty, Dueland decided to go for it, and running back Zac Crowley bulled into the line for a 4-yard gain and a first down.
Three plays later, Crowley ran around right end and broke two Arapahoe tackles for a 29-yard touchdown. Elm Creek fumbled the snap on the conversion attempt, and Arapahoe led 26-19 with 10:42 left in the contest.
The Buffs forced an Arapahoe punt, and Elm Creek marched 64 yards in just five plays for the tying score.
Crowley ran 25 yards on first down, and he later covered the final 30 yards for the touchdown. Kyler Beck booted the extra point for a 26-26 tie with 6:38 left.
Crowley matched Weverka's big night, as the Elm Creek senior carries 26 times for 212 rushing yards. Weverka carried 37 times for 234 yards, according to Arapahoe stats
"Anything that gets the team the win. Whatever, it doesn't matter," Weverka said of his busy workload in Tuesday playoff contest.
ARAPAHOE went on fourth down and 2 from the Warriors 28, but Weverka was stopped for no gain, giving Elm Creek great field position. A holding penalty pushed the Buffs back to the Arapahoe 35. Quarterback Britton Ferguson scrambled on a third-down pass play to gain 9 yards, leaving Dueland's squad with fourth down and 7 to go from the Warriors' 26.
The former Bison said he would have punted if Ferguson had thrown an incompletion on third down, but just 26 yards from the end zone on fourth down was too close for a punt.
"You punt it into the end zone (touchback), and it ends up being an 11-yard kick," Dueland said.
On fourth down, defensive pressure from Arapahoe forced Ferguson to throw the ball wide of the mark, giving the hosts possession 54 yards away from a tying score with just over three minutes remaining.
"I just told the kids, 'This is it.' They knew it, too," said Arapahoe head coach Dustin Sealey, as he prepped his team for the final drive. "We went in spurts being physical and outworking them and kind of getting the edge. We just needed to get back in that mode again. I thought we just let up a little bit (in the fourth quarter).
"I think it was will and determination by our senior guys, not wanting to turn (equipment) in just yet."
WEVERKA RAN 9 yards for a first down on the second play of the drive, then the junior picked up 8 yards for another first down to move the ball to the Elm Creek 27.
Three plays later, the Warriors faced fourth down at the Buffaloes 20 after using their final timeout with 21.7 seconds remaining.
Coach Sealey said his team put in the swing pass to Schutz just this week.
"We ran it on third down in the first half and got a first down," Sealey said. "I really had no choice. I know they were thinking we were going to run the ball, but we were out of timeouts. We had to pass it. I'm sure in their mind they were thinking we were probably going to run the ball because we had been doing it all game. They were crammed in there. I was actually thinking of going to a post route. The swing was there."
WEVERKA TOOK the snap and fired a quick strike to Schutz in the right flat. The senior beat an Elm Creek defender around the corner, then sprinted and dove for the goal line to score the winning touchdown. Weverka was stopped short on the extra point run.
Elm Creek misfired on its final pass attempt as Arapahoe players and fans breathed a sigh of relief.
Coach Sealey gave credit to his team for a great win.
"It's unbelievable. The kids, they're just, I can't say enough about them," Sealey said. "They're just great kids. Working hard, and they deserve it. They're a good group."
THE WARRIORS scored first on Weverka's 5-yard run late in the opening quarter. Elm Creek answered with a drive capped by Ferguson's 1-yard TD dive on the second play of the second quarter. The PAT kick put the Buffs ahead 7-6.
Elm Creek fumbled a punt snap, and Arapahoe too over at the Buffs 26. Weverka later scored on a 5-yard run to put the hosts back on top, 12-6.
But not for long. Crowley returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown and a 13-12 Elm Creek advantage.
Arapahoe came right back with a 65-yard scoring drive infive plays, as Weverka ran 33 yards for a TD, then the quarterback ran for the two-point conversion to put the hosts ahead 20-13.
Weverka scored again late in the third period on a 3-yard run to put his team in control at 26-13 to set up the fantastic fourth quarter.
ARAPAHOE improved to 11-0, and the Warriors face a trip north to face Elgin Public/Pope John in the D-1 playoff semifinals Monday, Nov. 12, with kickoff set for 3 p.m. in Elgin.
"Next Monday's the big one," Weverka said of the semifinal trip to Elgin.
The Elgin co-op squad advanced with a 60-13 home win over Loup City Tuesday.
The Arapahoe-Elgin winner advances to the Class D-1 state championship finals Monday, Nov. 19 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.