DeWITT – Tri County entered the postseason as the 11th seed in the 16-team Eastern Division of the Class D-1 playoff bracket.
The Trojans looked nothing like that number against Elmwood-Murdock on Wednesday night.
Tri County defeated the third-seeded Knights 68-8 in a second-round matchup. The Trojans controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the game and took advantage of multiple Elmwood-Murdock turnovers. TCHS led 14-0 within the first seven minutes and built the halftime edge to 46-0.
“They claimed and held momentum from the start of the game,” Elmwood-Murdock head coach Lance Steffen said. “They did a great job of exposing our scheme defensively and we didn’t tackle very well.
“Offensively, we couldn’t hold onto the ball, giving away five turnovers, a blocked punt and a couple of turnovers on downs. All of those turnovers were very uncharacteristic of our offense and never allowed us to claim momentum. A huge amount of credit goes to their coaching staff and players.”
Tri County (7-3) relied on junior quarterback Cole Siems to direct the offense. Siems produced seven rushing touchdowns and played a role in four two-point conversions. He finished one touchdown away from tying the top individual total in Class D-1 playoff history. Cory Eikmeier of Dodge (1996) and Kenesaw’s Tyler Schnitzler (2011) both posted eight touchdowns for their teams in playoff games.
Both schools battled cold weather during the contest. The wind chill was 26 degrees at kickoff and dipped to 20 by the end of the game. Wind gusts reached 28 miles per hour at nearby Beatrice in the early evening.
Siems kept the home crowd in a warm mood with a 68-yard touchdown run on Tri County’s opening drive. The Trojans stopped Elmwood-Murdock on a fourth-and-three play near midfield on the ensuing drive, and TCHS capitalized two minutes later on Drew Garrison’s nine-yard touchdown run.
Elmwood-Murdock (8-2) had a chance to cut into the 14-0 lead on the next drive. The Knights moved the football down to the 10-yard line before a fumble happened. Brett Boyce returned the football 62 yards to set up a short quarterback run from Siems 10:08 before halftime.
Tri County increased the lead to 38-0 in the next six minutes. Bailey Waltke recovered a fumble after an Elmwood-Murdock pass completion, and the Trojans then blocked a punt and recovered it at the 2-yard line. Siems ended both drives with short touchdown runs. The team made the halftime gap 46-0 after Siems scored on a sweep play to the righthand pylon with 13 seconds left.
The Trojans kept that energy in the third quarter. Siems ran 65 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, and Siems and Garrison collected a fumble recovery and interception on E-M’s next two drives.
Elmwood-Murdock scored with 2:02 in the fourth quarter. Drake Spohr completed a long pass to Noah Willey to get the football down to the 4-yard line. Spohr then ran into the righthand side of the end zone for the touchdown.
Spohr ended the game with 102 rushing yards on 20 carries. Jared Drake gained 73 yards on 17 touches, Cade Hosier had 19 yards on three attempts and Noah Arent gained four yards on three carries. Spohr completed two passes to Willey for 23 yards and one pass to Noah Jones for 13 yards.
Spohr led E-M’s defense with six solo and five assisted tackles. He stopped five Tri County runners behind the line of scrimmage. Drake registered two solo and five assisted tackles and Arent posted two solo and three assisted stops.
Sam Behrends and Willey each collected two solo and two assisted tackles. Tyler Marlatt made one solo and four assisted stops and Carson vonRentzell tallied one solo and three assisted tackles.
Steffen said the Knights could hold their heads high about their accomplishments this fall. The team went 7-1 in the regular season, finished undefeated in district action and earned the program’s 18th trip to the playoffs. E-M’s victory over East Butler last week gave the Knights their first postseason triumph since 2011.
“This season was a very enjoyable one,” Steffen said. “I saw great things from our team at times and loved every minute of it. We claimed our first district championship since 2015 and restored some of the expectations and tradition that surround our football program. This season definitely set the bar for future teams.”
Behrends, Marlatt, Spohr and Willey were the team’s four seniors. Steffen said all four players were instrumental to Elmwood-Murdock’s success throughout the season.
“Truthfully, I can’t imagine coaching a team without those four to lean on going forward,” Steffen said. “We will need tremendous leadership and hard work from our lower classes to replace the void in production and leadership left by these four great young men.
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“I am incredibly proud to have been their coach and I am excited about the great things they will all do in their futures. We have a lot of work ahead of us to maintain the momentum they created.”
Elmwood-Murdock 0 0 0 8 – 8
Tri County 14 32 14 8 – 68
TCHS – Siems 68 run (Garrison run), 9:43
TCHS – Garrison 9 run (run no good), 5:33
TCHS – Siems 8 run (Siems run), 10:08
TCHS – Siems 2 run (Weise pass from Siems), 6:35
TCHS – Siems 2 run (Smith pass from Siems), 4:10
TCHS – Siems 7 run (Siems run), 0:13
TCHS – Siems 65 run (Garrison run), 11:30
TCHS – Siems 31 run (run no good), 3:07
TCHS – Holsing 23 run (Garrison run), 8:52
EM – Spohr 4 run (Drake run), 2:02