BREMEN — Bremen’s Eric Knepper experienced quite the eventful night Friday.
The junior running back/linebacker stretched across the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter — his third score of the game — exited with leg cramps after that score, and returned in time to record a game-saving sack in the Lions’ 32-28 Northern State Conference football win over Culver Community at Don Bunge Field.
For the game, Knepper chewed up 156 yards in 15 tries and scored on carries of 4, 55, and 14 yards. All three of those six-point totes occurred during the Lions’ inspired third-quarter effort, with the second and third staking the Lions to leads of 25-21 and 32-28 respectively.
“Eric’s a primetime player,” Bremen head coach Bob Holmes said. “That kid came ready to play, and he played an outstanding game on both sides of the ball. He made some huge plays, but he didn’t do it alone. The entire team took it to another level in the second half.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Holmes added. “For these young kids to listen at halftime and come out and execute is huge. Ninety percent of the game is played from the neck up. We showed a lot of character, both physically and mentally.”
Even so, Culver, which built a 21-7 advantage late in the second half, gave itself an opportunity to win with a lengthy fourth-quarter drive. Starting on their own 12, the Cavs marched down the field behind quarterback Collin Stevens and receivers Micah Budzinski and Trent Elliott. Culver traveled all the way to the Bremen 8 before an offensive pass interference slowed the drive, and Knepper ultimately blitzed and sacked Stevens on fourth and goal from the 18 with less than two minutes to play.
“We were trying to get to the corner of the end zone, the corner of the left side and maybe sneak someone over the middle for a second look,” Culver head coach Andy Thomas said of his squad’s final snap. “We made enough plays to win. We showed a lot of guts on that drive.
“Our guys are devastated right now,” he added. “But we showed signs of life; we showed signs of wanting to be a championship team. The key right now is to not let Bremen beat us twice. We need to refocus and get ready for Knox next week.”
Bremen senior Ethan Pike snared three receptions for 106 yards, highlighted by a 30-yard touchdown pass from Kai Slough right before halftime. That made it a 21-13 score immediately after Culver scored on a 40-yard connection from Stevens to Elliott.
“Ethan Pike made some huge catches,” Holmes said. “He made some big plays on both sides of the ball. Our offensive line gave our quarterback enough time to throw; that was crucial.
“I think (Pike’s touchdown) came at a critical juncture in the game,” he added. “To score right after Culver had scored gave us some momentum going into halftime. We made adjustments, came out in the second half and drove down the field and scored to put us within striking distance.”
Offensively, Culver relied upon its potent passing attack. Stevens finished 16 of 23 for 247 yards and three touchdowns. His 26-yarder to Budzinski knotted the score at 7-all with 18.4 seconds left in the opening stanza. Stevens, who tacked on four PATs, also delivered a 40-yard strike to Elliott, who made a tackle-shedding cutback, to put the Cavs up 21-7 with 1:10 left before the intermission, and found Elliott again from 7 yards to give Culver a 28-25 lead with 2:31 to go in the third quarter.
Culver grabbed its first lead on a 66-yard halfback pass from Preston Hansel to Budzinski with 6:45 to play in the second quarter. Budzinski, a 6-foot-6 senior, grabbed eight passes covering 182 yards, while Elliott hauled in nine receptions for 131 yards.
“(Bremen’s) corners were backing off,” Thomas said. “Their blitzes gave us room on the edges and left lanes open. (Budzinski and Elliott) made some big-time catches, and Collin made some big-time throws.”
Also for Bremen, senior Dillon Mullen carried the ball 13 times for 107 yards, including a 10-yard run for the game’s initial score. Junior Jon Stoller piled up 87 rushing yards in 12 attempts.
“All the credit goes to the kids,” Holmes said. “My coaching staff is awesome. We’re playing a lot of young kids, and our coaching staff has been outstanding. I appreciate them.”
Bremen heads to LaVille next Friday, while Culver travels to Knox.
• BREMEN 32,
CULVER COMMUNITY 28
Score by quarters
Culver: 7 14 7 0 — 28
Bremen: 7 6 19 0 — 32
B — Dillon Mullen 10 run (Lucas Schlarb kick), 6:07.
C — Micah Budzinski 26 pass from Collin Stevens (Stevens kick), 18.4
C — Budzinski 66 pass from Preston Hansel (Stevens kick), 6:45.
C — Trent Elliott 40 pass from Stevens (Stevens kick), 1:10.
B — Ethan Pike 30 pass from Kai Slough (run failed), 20.4
B — Eric Knepper 4 run (pass failed) 8:31.
B — Knepper 55 run (run failed), 5:53.
C — Elliott 7 pass from Stevens (Stevens kick), 2:31.
B — Knepper 14 run (Schlarb kick), 18.5.
Rushing: 35 carries for 99 yards (John Ahlenius 21-54, Preston Hansel 2-26, Bradley Beaver 3-21, Budzinski 1-12, Stevens 8-(minus)14.
Passing: Stevens 16-23-1, 247 yards, Hansel 1-2, 66 yards
Receiving: Budzinski 8-182, Elliott 9-131
Tackles: John Ahlenius 7
First downs: 20
Rushing: 45 carries for 337 yards (Knepper 15-156, Mullen 13-107, Jon Stoller 12-87, Slough 5-(minus)13).
Passing: Slough 4-10-1, 106 yards
Receiving: Pike 3-106, Jacob Bennitt 1-0.
Tackles: Beau Beeson, Bobby Cornett 6
First downs: 22
Records: Culver 1-4 (1-2 NSC), Bremen 3-2 (2-1 NSC).