Knights end postseason with loss — but end game with one final touchdown
The Union Knights (3-6) ended their 2021-22 season Friday night on the road in a hard fought, action-packed loss, 35-41, to the Monticello Panthers (7-2) in round one of the Iowa High School Football Playoffs.
“This truly was a fun season,” Coach Jared Pospisil said in a text-based interview following the game.
“Coming into the season, we thought we had a few gaps here and there that were going to be difficult to manage. However, the hard work, resilience, and determination of our players overcame those barriers to the point where we were competitive in every game we played. And the awesome part was our guys knew it — they knew they could come back from anything.”
The Knights certainly played like they were going to win Friday night, fighting for every one of their 35 points — working until practically the last seconds to put points on the board. The final Knights touchdown of the game arrived with less than 40 seconds remaining courtesy of a reception by senior Max Eikamp from senior starting quarterback Grant Behrens to put the score at 33-41.
Behrens then made good on the two-point conversion to get the score at 35-41 — the final of the night.
If it was any one thing that led to their loss it might have been turnovers converting into Panthers’ points.
The quick manner in which the Panthers’ offense was able to cycle through plays and move the ball downfield was also a contributing factor.
Despite the nimbleness of the Panthers offense, the Knights led the game for much of the first quarter with Behrens rushing in the opening touchdown of the night from the one yard line at just under the six-minute mark.
The Panthers then answered with a touchdown of their own with less than three minutes remaining in the first quarter to put the score at 7-7.
The Panthers followed up their touchdown with a quick interception of a Behrens’ pass. Monticello eventually ran out of downs but the field goal was good.
Union wide receiver Joren Fisher then fielded Monticello’s kickoff and took the ball to the 40 yard line with an impressive 47 yard return to end the first quarter.
At the start of the second quarter, tight end Logan Rosauer moved the ball further toward the Knights’ goal with a 17 yard reception — only stopped by a tackle so hard a large divot of Panthers’ turf lodged into his helmet, requiring several minutes of work on the sidelines to get it out and away from of his line of vision.
About three minutes into the second quarter, Behrens rushed another touchdown from the two yard line — the extra point blocked — putting the Knights up again 13-10.
Monticello responded with a quick series of plays, scoring a touchdown and moving the score to 13-17 in the Panthers’ favor.
The Knights defense successfully prevented a Panthers’ touchdown with a sack — an attempt made possible due to another Union turnover — but a Panthers’ field goal put the score at 13-20 with less than three minutes left in the first half.
Union wide receiver Michael Niebergall then fielded the Panthers kickoff and ran practically the entirety of the field for a touchdown — inching the score up to 19-20.
But with a mere 34 seconds left in the half, Monticello again answered back with a quick touchdown and extra point. The score 19-27 at the half.
The ability of the Knights offense to keep moving, to keep churning plays despite consistently being answered back so quickly by the Monticello offense did not go unnoticed by Coach Pospisil.
“Our team did a great job keeping its composure, which gave us a shot to win at the end of the game. I thought our offensive line did a great job protecting [Behrens] and opening up holes in the red zone. Overall, I thought our red zone offense was awesome!”
Behrens passed for 206 yards Friday night, making 17 of his 32 passing attempts and connecting with four receivers including Niebergall nine times for 117 yards, Eikamp four times for 40 yards and one touchdown, Rosauer three times for 39 yards, and tight end Gibson Purdy once for a 10 yard reception.
Behrens kept the ball 20 times Friday night — rushing in three touchdowns against the Panthers.
The Knights defense put up some solid numbers against the quick Monticello offense, recording 65 tackles across 16 players. Union defensive leaders included Dakota Marvets with 13.5 tackles (eight solo) and Gibson Purdy with 8.5 tackles (five solo).
The second half of the game was much like the first — no let up from either team, but the Monticello Panthers quick offensive game proved just a bit too much for the Knights to overcome. The Panthers were up at the start of the fourth quarter.
Despite the loss, the Knights owned the end of the game with the touchdown pass from Behrens to Eikamp — two senior players closing out their high school football career with a firm statement.
“Monticello is a great team with some awesome weapons,” Coach Pospisil said, “but our guys did not back down. … [Behrens] — and a lot of our other players — just don’t get rattled. When things get tough, these guys line up and keep doing their jobs.”
This was the final game for about ten Union players including Niebergall, Behrens, Eikamp, Purdy, and Marvets. Coach Pospisil knows he’s losing some valuable skills after this season.
“Obviously, we are going to miss this senior class, not only for their performance on the field but also for their leadership. However, I think the seniors acted as great role models, and there are underclassmen who are eager to take up leadership positions.”
“We had quite a few young guys get playing time in key areas this year. We will build off that experience next year.”
The future of Union football looks good in 2022-2023.