BREMEN — It was Homecoming Night for the entire Bremen football team, but one senior in particular had a very special homecoming Friday night.
Tailback Reid Zellmer returned from a four-week hiatus recovering from a broken collarbone, and the 6-foot, 176-pound upperclassman rumbled for 269 yards and two touchdowns in 27 carries in a gutsy performance as Bremen held off Knox 21-14 at Don Bunge Field.
Zellmer — sidelined with a broken collarbone sustained during the first series of the Lions' Colts Hall of Fame Horseshoe Classic against Tippecanoe Valley in Week 2 — snapped a 7-7 tie with a 70-yard breakaway for a touchdown with just nine seconds remaining in the first half and tacked on the Lions' final score of the night on another big 30-yard ramble at the 2:43 mark of the fourth quarter to give Bremen a 21-7 cushion. Along with his 269 rushing yards, Zellmer also recorded a pair of catches for 23 receiving yards against the Redskins.
"What a night for Reid Zellmer," said Bremen head football coach Bob Holmes. "Homecoming, senior year. A broken collarbone in Week 2, surgery in Week 3 and back by Week 7. Amazing, amazing, amazing. The kid just had an outstanding evening. He's got a heart the size of a lion's, and he showed it tonight."
"We had a hard time stopping their iso. He did a good job finding the hole and cutting back," said Knox coach Chris McGowen of Zellmer. "We weren't scraping where we needed to be on the backside, but you know what, the kid had a heck of a game and did a good job being a patient runner, ripping it in there when he needed to rip it up in there but also taking what we were giving him and doing a good job finding the lane. He's just a heck of a running back."
Knox took Bremen down to the wire as the Redskins scored on a quick seven-play, 69-yard hurry-up drive capped off by Nevin Miller's second TD pass of the night, a 9-yarder to Dylan Short with 1:43 remaining on the clock. The Redskins recovered the ensuing onside kick from Jordan Beem to give them one last chance, but Bobby Cornett tipped up a Miller pass over the middle and Jacob Bennitt reeled in a game-sealing interception to give the Lions possession on their own 48 with 1:06 on the game clock. Bremen set up in the victory formation, quarterback Kai Slough took a knee three times, and the home team escaped with its fourth straight Northern State Conference win on Homecoming Night.
"The kids battled. They played their hearts out, but I'm not into moral victories any more," said McGowen. "That was a long time ago. We're too good to be doing what we're doing and shooting ourselves in the foot as much as we have."
"That's a huge heads-up play and having a nose for the football and having athletic kids back there to get it done," said Holmes of Cornett's tip and Bennitt's pick. "The kids rose to the occasion. We had a little adversity there at the end letting them score and then letting them recover the onside kick, but getting the pick, fighting through and winning the football game, that's what it's all about. A good NSC football game tonight."
Bremen jumped out to an early lead at the game as the Lions drove 44 yards on their first possession for a 1-yard score by Eric Knepper that gave them a 7-0 advantage with the first of three Lucas Schlarb extra-point kicks at the 5:40 stop of the first quarter.
But Knox knotted the game up at 7-all at the 3 minute-mark of the second frame as Colton Hill's 33-yard catch and carry from Miller and Alex Hernandez's first of two PATs capped off a 66-yard, nine-play drive.
The score was nullified just over a minute later, however, when Zellmer got loose up the middle and broke a pair of tackles for his 79-yard score to give the Lions back the lead with nine seconds remaining in the half.
"We got a little lax there right before halftime with 15, 16 seconds left, and we let them run an iso for 79 yards, and that ends up being the difference in the game," said McGowen. "I think we maybe packed it in a little early there defensively. We though they were just going to take a knee, but we've got to step up and make that play and it's a whole different ball game."
Zellmer led the Bremen offense with 292 of the Lions' 400 total offensive yards. Along with Cornett's and Bennitt's big interception late in the fourth, junior linebacker Zach Zimmer put in a standout performance on defense with five tackles in the win, Bremen's fourth straight since starting the season 1-2.
"We did a nice job extending our victories in the conference. That's four in a row, and we've got a big test ahead of us with Jimtown coming in here next week," said Holmes. "They're playing awful dog-gone good football, and we're going to have to step it up next week, there's no doubt about it."
Knox was led by Hill's 131 receiving yards in seven catches. Miller went 11-for-20 for 193 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception as the Redskins were forced to play without star running back Garrett Majchrzak at Bremen.
"Colton Hill played a great game. Nevin made some great reads in the passing game. He made a couple more reads than he should have made that he ended up missing, but when you're talking about high school kids that's going to happen," McGowen said. "Garrett Majchrzak is a big offensive piece. The last two games he's rushed for more than 140 yards. He went down last week with an MCL sprain, so he's out this week and maybe next. When we get him back in the game obviously it's a whole new ball game."
• BREMEN 21, KNOX 14
Score by quarter
Knox: 7 7 0 7 — 21
Bremen: 7 0 7 — 14
B — Eric Knepper 1-yd run (Lucas Schlarb kick), 5:40
K — Nevin Miller 33-yard pass to Colton Hill (Alex Hernandez kick), 3:00
B — Reid Zellmer 79-yard run (Schlarb kick), :09
B — Zellmer 30-yd run (Schlarb kick), 2:43
K — Miller 9-yard pass to Dylan Short (Hernandez kick), 1:43
First downs: 16 11
Rushing (att-yardage): 45-299 33-97
Passing (att-comp-int): 5-14-1 20-11-1
Passing yardage: 101 193
Fumbles-lost: 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yds lost: 2-15 4-31
Rushing: Zellmer 27-269, 2 TDs; Dillon Mullen 6-26
Passing: Kai Slough 5-14-1 for 101 yds
Receiving: Zellmer 2-23, Ethan Pike 2-2, Eric Knepper 1-27, Ryan Zellmer 1-16
Rushing: Miller 14-53, Eric Dan 12-27, Mike Sustaita 5-17
Passing: Miller 11-20-0 for 191, 2 TDs
Receiving: Hill 7-131, 1 TD; Dylan Short 2-17, 1 TD; Brian Fulghum 2-43
Records: Bremen 5-2 (4-1 NSC), Knox 1-5 (1-4 NSC)