OBERLIN — The only thing standing between Vermilion and a tie game was Nick Pfeifer’s hand. Oberlin’s sophomore defensive lineman burst through the line with his hands up and blocked the extra point with 2:29 left. What seemed like a surefire tie remained a one-point margin, and Oberlin held on for a 28-27 victory Friday to improve to 2-0.
“I knew I had to do something big,” Pfeifer said. “As soon as it hit my hand I knew we were going to win. It felt amazing.”
Oberlin seemingly had the game in hand with 8:22 to play. Quarterback Jason Moore Jr. scrambled for an 18-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 to give the Phoenix a 28-14 lead.
The Sailors (0-2), however, answered on the next drive, when quarterback Forrest Boyd accounted for all but 17 of the yards. He threw for 25 and rushed for 28, including a 17-yard touchdown to bring the Sailors within seven.
Oberlin caught an unfortunate break when it punted from its 17 on the ensuing drive. The ball hit at the 45 and bounced backward to the 26 for a net of 9 yards. On the next play, Vermilion’s Brad Cole scored his second touchdown. Cole finished with 118 yards on 10 carries.
“The youth in us came out when we were up 28-14,” Oberlin coach Fred Howery said. “We relaxed. You can see it on defense because they scored on one play.”
But Pfeifer’s block saved the day.
Oberlin went up 14-0 early, scoring on its first drive thanks to a new wrinkle: the Wildcat. Kalif Townsel lined up at quarterback for all seven plays. His first pass went incomplete, so he decided to take matters into his own hands and ran the ball six times for 57 yards, including the 5-yard touchdown.
“I don’t take responsibility for nothing, it’s all upfront. It’s my line, I give it all to them.” Townsel said. “Everybody put their heart out on the line tonight.”
The Phoenix came back to the Wildcat on the second drive, but it stalled. After another three-and-out, Oberlin took over with 2:08 in the first and put together a 13-play drive that covered 87 yards and lasted 6:30. Moore’s 13-yard touchdown run finished it.
Vermilion, however, battled back and scored with no time left in the half, capping a 2:31 drive when Boyd found Austin Kazmer wide open in the end zone for a 4-yard pass. The Sailors tied it on the second drive of the second half when Cole scored his first touchdown from 14 yards.
“We keep preaching to the kids that we’re going to fight to the very end,” Vermilion coach Rob Duray said. “Out kids kept yelling that we were going to come back and win. And we came very, very close.
“I think we improved from Week 1. We took a step in the right direction to build this program. We’ve got to take this momentum into Week 3 and fix our mistakes.”
• NOT WISE: On Aug. 22 junior linebacker Tyler Thomas’s aunt informed Howery he wouldn’t be available for the Phoenix’s Week 1 showdown against Lutheran East because he was getting his wisdom teeth removed the day before the game. Thomas returned this week and picked off Boyd on the first drive of the second half. His presence on both sides of the ball changed the dynamic for Oberlin. “It really threw us for a loop at outside linebacker and he also blocks in the backfield,” Howery said. “It made us stagnate last week and we improved our defense with his presence.”