In the biggest game of the season, Three Rivers used a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Jalen Heivilin to Gavin Charvat with just over four minutes remaining to upend visiting Edwardsburg 21-18 and pull even with the Eddies atop the Wolverine Conference standings at 6-1.
The Eddies joined the Wolverine Conference in 2012 and had beaten Three Rivers in all five meetings prior to Friday’s contest.
Three Rivers coach J.J. Wagner has been coaching for the better part of three decades. And for a man who tends not to embellish, his words carried a lot of weight.
“The kids played out of their minds,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 27 years and I’ve never been more proud of a group of guys. They did exactly what we asked them to do.”
The two teams, which traded scores all night long, both entered the Week 7 matchup ranked in the top 10 in the state, with the undefeated Eddies checking in at No.3 in Division 3 and the Wildcats at No. 7 in Division 4.
There weren’t enough game balls to hand out Friday night, as the Wildcats’ defense came up big once again and the Jalen Heivilin-led offense executed in clutch moments.
Heivlilin had answers for Edwardsburg all night long, twice through the air and once on a seven-yard quarterback scramble as he continuously helped put the Wildcats move back in front every time they fell behind. After a crucial run on fourth down to extend the drive, Heivilin hooked up with Charvat on a nine-yard TD pass with 4:12 left in the game for the go-ahead score. Charvat stretched out for the pylon in a play that will have quite a shelf life in Three Rivers lore.
“We won by three points because our defense, even after giving up a big score, stopped a two-point conversion, which was huge,” Heivilin said. “I’m extremely proud of the defense and the receivers. Gavin Charvat played a heckuva game. He played the best game I think he has all season. Running all over, making great cuts, diving for the pylon at the end there. That’s a huge score. The O-line has been protecting me all year and I was sacked once in the game. They let me throw all night and gave me plenty of time.”
Defensive stops put the Wildcats in that position as the Eddies were unable to convert on third down at midfield on the previous possession. After Three Rivers pulled ahead for the final time, it was able to shut down Edwardsburg at midfield again, this time on fourth down. Three Rivers nearly ran the rest of the clock down when it took over on offense, but punt rolled into the end zone with a second left in the game. Edwardsburg was unable to produce a miracle on a pass to the flat, which fell incomplete.
The Eddies grabbed a 6-0 lead late in the opening quarter, before Heivilin hooked up with Bryce Morlan on a short two-yard pass midway through the second quarter, giving the Wildcats a 7-6 halftime lead after Morlan converted on his first of three extra points. Edwardsburg’s inability to convert on any of its extra conversions definitely proved a factor in this one as both teams finished the contest with three touchdowns.
It was a tale of two different offenses as Edwardsburg stifled Three Rivers’ ground game, holding the Wildcats to 23 yards on 18 carries, while the Eddies racked up 302 yards on the ground on 54 carries of their own, despite not having a 100-yard rusher.
Three Rivers held Edwardsburg to just 19 yards through the air, though, as Heivilin converted 18-of-35 pass attempts for 199 yards, the two scores and one pick. Charvat hauled in eight of those balls for Three Rivers for 90 yards receiving, while Jett Haifley and Morlan both had three grabs each. Nolan Mark snagged two balls for 19 yards, while also leading the Cats in rushing, picking up 23 yards on six carries. Zac Meyer caught Heivilin’s other two completions.
Chris Morrill led the Wildcat D with 11 unassisted tackles, three of them for a loss, while also taking advantage of the lone Edwardsburg turnover on the night, recovering a fumble and returning it 31 yards. Tyler Moore registered 13 stops, eight of them unassisted, and Traven Van Oss had 11 stops, six unassisted, including one for a loss. Romeo Jordan and Ryan Mills teamed up on another stop behind the line for the first-place Wildcats.
“It was for sure our biggest win since I’ve been on varsity,” senior lineman Tirrell Hausmanis said. “And for sure one of the biggest wins for the program. Everyone was doubting us, so we had to prove them wrong. We played great. We have been harping on each other about focusing in and grinding all season long, especially this week. I knew since Day 1 we were going to beat them. Our team just works really hard. I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again; we have the best D-line in the conference. We proved that tonight.”
Photos by Chris Carpenter