Retooling its offense to better suit new starting quarterback Jake Saylor, Walkersville moved the ball consistently and put up points.
And after getting caught up in a first-half shootout, the Lions’ defense was doing a credible job of containing Oakdale.
Those developments, while helpful, weren’t going to be enough for Walkersville to snap a two-game losing streak. They weren’t going to be enough to help it pull out a postseason win on the road against the very same Oakdale team it lost to at home two weeks earlier.
No, the Lions needed to prevent the Bears from covering 3 yards when Oakdale, fresh from scoring a touchdown with 1 minute, 29 seconds left, opted to go for a potential game-winning two-point conversion instead of a game-tying extra-point kick.
And Leo McDonald, who missed all of last season with a concussion, performed this crucial task. The senior nose guard tackled Oakdale running back Dylan Berney on the 2-point attempt, helping the Lions preserve a 28-27 win in the first round of the Class 2A West playoffs on Friday.
“We had a rough two weeks. A lot of people had us counted out,” Lions coach Joe Polce said. “But we never lost faith in our program, we never lost faith in each other, and we came in here and laid it all on the line.”
The Lions (7-3) now get yet another rematch on the road against a team they lost to in the regular season, facing Middletown in the next round of the playoffs after pulling off what many would consider an upset.
Reflecting on the win and how he was able to play this year after being sidelined as a junior, McDonald said he couldn’t stop smiling. Fortunately for the Lions, he was able to stop Berney on a toss play to the right side.
“I saw him cutting back, and I was like, ‘I have to stop him,’ and I was there. I went right for his legs,” McDonald said. “I’ve been through so much and just feel so good to actually do something good.”
Heading into the final two minutes of regulation, McDonald and the rest of Walkersville’s defense hadn’t allowed the Bears to score in the second half in a game where both team’s defenses tightened up after halftime.
But Bears senior Luke Carey, who had been gaining tough yards all night on hard runs, scored his second touchdown of the game on a 9-yard carry to narrow Walkersville’s lead to 28-27.
The Bears, still in position to defend their Class 2A state crown despite losing a slew of players from 2018, trotted their offense back onto the field to go for the game-winning conversion.
“We decided a long time ago in those kind of situations that we’re going to play for the win,” Oakdale coach Kurt Stein said.
But before the Bears could run the play, referees made Carey leave the field because they spotted blood on him.
“We thought we had a pretty good play there. They made Carey come out for blood, which may have jacked us up a little bit,” Stein said. “But we’re going to play for the win. Our kids wanted to go for the win, we wanted to go for the win, so we went for the win. Credit to Walkersville.”
“It was a gutsy call by Coach Stein. He’s one heck of a football coach,” Polce said. “He went for it. Our guys stepped up and made one heck of a play.”
Oakdale had two timeouts left, but Walkersville milked the clock and sealed the win when Saylor, on a fourth-and-1 from Oakdale’s 40, ran for 3 yards.
Saylor, a senior, was making his first start of the season after starter Andrew Stroka got hurt last week against Middletown. The change prompted Walkersville to switch to a wing-T offense on Monday afternoon.
“We changed our offense to fit Jake’s skill set, and it worked out pretty good,” Polce said. “He came in and did a heck of a job, got us a big win.”
Saylor only threw eight passes, but one of them was huge, a screen that tight end Jeremiah Franklin turned into a 53-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
The offensive change also had Josiah Jones switch from tailback to fullback. Getting good blocking most of the night, Jones rushed for 94 yards, including touchdown runs of 2 and 4 yards, on 14 carries.
Jake Hess scored on a 14-yard run for Walkersville. Brett Ahalt made plays for the defense, grabbing an interception and causing and recovering a fumble to help contain an Oakdale offense that appeared virtually unstoppable in the first half.
Garrett Witt, serving as a wildcat quarterback for Oakdale, scored on a 36-yard run. Carey caught a TD pass from Ethan Reifer, and Berney ran for one.
Oakdale finishes with a 6-4 record.
“We had a bump in the road in the middle of the season, but the kids rebounded,” Stein said. “The last three weeks, they played great, four weeks, actually. They played great tonight.”