Home field advantage and a really ugly pass which turned into a thing of beauty helped propel Three Rivers into the next round of the high school football playoffs on Friday night.
Avenging last week’s 30-20 loss to Vicksburg, the Wildcats came out with a lot more energy, scoring first this time and taking a 20-10 victory over the Bulldogs at Armstrong Field. Three Rivers (8-2 overall) will play at Edwardsburg (9-1) next week.
“If I knew what the difference for our team was from last week to this week, I’d do it every week,’’ Three Rivers coach J.J. Wagner said with a smile. “Home field advantage is a big deal and they had it last week and we had it this week.
“We had a good week of practice and it was just different.”
What was really different was a huge catch by Three Rivers junior Gavin Charvat in what turned out to be the game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. And it wasn’t exactly quarterback Jalen Heivilin’s best throw of the night.
On third down and 15 from their own 44 yard line and leading 14-10 with about eight minutes remaining in the game, Heivilin, whose accuracy and poise have been critical to the Wildcats’ success this year, went back to throw. Under pressure he threw it towards Charvat.
The ball was well behind the receiver, but somehow Charvat reached around a defender and caught the ball for a 34-yard gain and a first down. Three plays later, junior Garrett McDonald rolled into the end zone from six yards out for the game’s final points.
“That’s probably not the worst pass he’s thrown…there have been some ugly ones,’’ Charvat said with a big laugh, giving his longtime friend a hard time. “It’s a big game and you have to make big plays.
“I saw the ball all the way and I had to catch it.’’
Added Three Rivers coach JJ Wagner: “I’m not sure he should have gone there with the ball, but I’m glad he did. Those two have a good relationship.’’
He caught several of them, six to be exact for 73 yards. Junior Jett Haifley grabbed two for 58 yards and a touchdown, senior Zac Meyer had two catches for 37 yards and Matt Lard two grabs for 29 yards.
All told, Heivlin completed 13 of 23 passes for 200 yards and one interception. That one pick was huge, too, as it happened at the goal line as the Wildcats were going in for a possible score in the second quarter. Vicksburg’s Shane Earl grabbed the ball to stop the drive.
But it was Three Rivers’ defense which really stepped up after allowing 30 points last week.
“The defense was the key tonight,’’ Charvat said. “We took it a little personal about the way we played last week.
“That was the worst defense we’ve played and we knew we had to step it up this week to prove ourselves.’’
Friday night, it might have been one of the best. The Wildcats held Vicksburg (7-3) to a minus-2 yards rushing on 17 attempts and to 111 yards passing. Three Rivers had 266 yards in total offense.
“We just weren’t happy with the game last week,’’ Wagner said. ‘’We just took a different approach on defense.
“Last week, they came out and hit us in the mouth. We were playing slow and we weren’t the aggressor.’’
Three Rivers changed that script in the first quarter. On its second series of the game, it went 57 yards in 10 plays with Haifley catching an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:53 left in the quarter. He grabbed the ball on the 5-yard line and dragged a defender into the end zone.
The Bulldogs came right back, though, to tie the score at 7. On the third play after the kickoff, Vicksburg senior quarterback Garrett Ketelaar threw a perfect strike down the middle of the field to senior Tim Gearig who shook off two tacklers and ran for a TD on a play which covered 62 yards.
The score stayed that way until 1:53 was left in the first half when sophomore Parker Ellifritz scored from six yards out to make it 14-7. Once again, Vicksburg kept it close as junior kicker Joe Brady booted a 34-yard field goal with 3 seconds left for a 14-10 game.
It stayed that way until midway through the fourth quarter when Charvat made his impossible catch to keep the scoring drive alive.
“It was just a different mindset tonight,’’ Wagner said. ‘’You’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of pride and they played very tough.’’
The pride showed up in the quarterback sacks. Senior Tirrell Hausmanis had one sack for a 15-yard loss, senior Chris Morrill dropped Ketelaar for a six-yard loss and senior Tyler Moore had 1 ½ sacks for a total of 12 yards in losses.
Junior Traven Van Oss led the Wildcats with six total tackles and Moore had five.
On the other hand, Three Rivers’ offensive line of Van Oss, Hausmanis, senior Hunter Tucker and juniors Ryan Mills and Hunter Stewart allowed only one sack.
Now it’s on to Edwardsburg which Three Rivers edged 21-18 earlier this month.
“We just take it week by week,’’ Wagner said.
And this week was pretty good.
Video by Mat Stutzman