Luers ends Bremen's run at semistate

FORT WAYNE — Turn-overs are trouble against any opponent.
Against two-time defending state champ Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, they were a killer.
The Knights capitalized with scores on each of Bremen’s three turnovers — including a backbreaking pair of miscues in the fourth quarter — and the Lions’ dream run to semistate ended in a 35-21 loss to Luers on the road in Fort Wayne Friday night.
“This was a battle,” said Luers head football coach Matt Lindsay. “That’s a good football team, and there were a lot of ebbs and flows. They made plays, we made plays, but ultimately the defense decided it. They came up with some huge plays.”
After Luers capitalized on a Bremen fumble for its first score midway through the first quarter, the Lions trailed throughout the night but were right in the game down by just one score and marching downfield in the fourth quarter.
But a strip on a passing play turned into a 66-yard fumble return for a score by the Knights and a 34-yard interception return for another touchdown less than a minute later proved to be too much to come back from. Bremen managed another touchdown of its own and recovered its subsequent onside kick, but the Lions closed their historic season with their first loss of the year to top-ranked Luers.
“You can’t turn the ball over against a team of this quality, and that turned out to be the deciding factor,” said Bremen head coach Bob Holmes. “The turnovers killed us. The two picks in the end, obviously that was the difference. That game was a lot closer than the scoreboard indicated even in the end.”
“Those were critical; the game was in the balance,” said Lindsay. “It’s always good to get a couple of big defensive plays. That always turns the tide.”
Bremen’s first turnover of the night came on a controversial called fumble on the Lions’ own 23-yard line at the 4:20 mark of the first quarter. The opportunistic Knights capitalized on the short field with a quick three-play scoring drive punctuated by a 6-yard touchdown run from 6-foot-3, 213-pound star running back Jaylon Smith — who finished with 106 yards and two touchdowns in 15 carries at the contest — at the 3:25 stop of the frame to put Luers up 7-0 with the ensuing kick from Greg Strack.
The Knights stretched their lead to 14-nil when senior quarterback James Knapke — who finished 4-for-8 in passing with a touchdown — hit Michael Rogers on a 61 yard catch-and-carry touchdown up the Luers sideline at the one-minute mark of the second quarter, but Bremen stayed in it with a passing touchdown of its own when senior quarterback Nate Leeper hit senior back Braxston Miller with a 20-yarder over the middle to put the Lions on the board and down just 14-7 with Lucas Schlarb’s PAT with 27 seconds remaining in the half.
The Knights stretched their lead back to two scores with a five-play, 55-yard scoring drive capped off by Smith’s second TD of the night — a reeling, 17-yard scamper into the end zone at the 3:07 mark of the third — but Bremen responded once more with a four-play, 51-yard touchdown drive culminating in a long 45-yard connection from Leeper to senior receiver Ben Hueni at the 9:17 mark of the fourth to bring the score to 21-14.
The energized Lions defense then held Luers to three and out, but Luers defensive back Kendrick Mullen stripped Miller at the Fort Wayne 44 and ran it in for a score to widen the gap to 28-14 with Strack’s fourth successful PAT with an even five minutes to go.
The deficit might still have been manageable, however, if not for what came next as Andrew Spencer picked off a Leeper pass just two plays later and returned the ball 34 yards for the Knights’ final touchdown of the night just 57 seconds later.
Defiant, Bremen managed the clock with passing to put together a 77-yard scoring drive capped off by a 16-yard touchdown reception from Sean Knepper with 1:35 remaining. The Lions then recovered their ensuing onsides kick and marched the ball deep into Luers territory, but their drive stalled at the Fort Wayne 35, and the Knights downed the ball four straight times to finish Bremen’s 13-game win streak and seal Luers a third straight 2A Northern Semistate championship.
“We can’t fault anybody for trying to make plays; we’re not going to place blame on any one of our teammates. It was a great ball game against an outstanding football team, and our kids played their hearts out,” said Holmes.
“We fought to the very end, and we ran out of time and the clock was against us.”
Bremen ends its season at 13-1. The Lions bid goodbye to a total of 18 seniors, who helped turn around a 3-9 season two years ago into a 22-5 run the past two seasons with season-ending losses coming both years to the state’s top-rated 2A team.
“This senior group has definitely made their mark on Bremen football,” said Holmes. “They’ve got an awful lot to be proud of. In the last two years, we lost to Renssaler Central in regional in overtime last year and went out to the defending state champions the last three out of four years. What else can you say about that? That’s a great career for these guys and something that they’ll take with them the rest of their lives.”
• LUERS 35,
At Fort Wayne
Score by quarters
Bremen: 0 7 0 14 — 21
Luers: 7 7 7 14 — 35
Scoring summary
First quarter
L — Jaylon Smith 6 run (Greg Strack kick), 3:25
Second quarter
L — Michael Rogers 61 pass from James Knapke (Strack kick), 1:00
B — Braxston Miller 20 pass from Nate Leeper (Lucas Schlarb kick), 0:27.5
Third quarter
L — Smith 17 run (Strack kick), 3:07
Fourth quarter
B — Ben Hueni 45 pass from Leeper (Schlarb kick), 9:17
L — Kendrick Mullen 66 fumble return (Strack kick),5:00
L — Andrew Spencer 34 interception return (Strack kick), 4:03
B — Sean Knepper 16 pass from Leeper (Schlarb kick), 1:35
Records: Bremen 13-1 (Final), Bishop Luers 13-1
Bremen            Luers
First downs      16         10
Yards rushing   36         121
Yards passing   206       71
Passes   18-35-1            4-8-0
Punts     5-31      5-31
Fumbles lost     1            0
Yards penalized 26         70