The last time the Ellsworth Bearcats won nine games in a season, Harry Truman was President of these United States, but folks in Ellsworth County won’t have to be reminded of that any more, following a thrilling 34-31 win for the Bearcats at Garden Plain on Friday night.
With the win, Head Coach Josh Homolka and Ellsworth improved to 9-1 on the season, advancing to the State Quarterfinals (Sectionals) of the Class 2A Playoffs.
Garden Plain made Ellsworth earn every bit of the win, though, striking first on the opening drive with a 26-yard Seth Dugan Field Goal, capping off an 11-play, 7:34 drive.
Ellsworth would answer back immediately though, scoring just two plays into the second quarter on a 5-yard Touchdown by RB Ian Andalon-Silva, taking a 7-3 lead. Ellsworth would then steal the next possession, recovering a short kickoff around the GPHS 40 yard line. Bearcat RB Loden West would help to increase the lead on a 6-yard Touchdown run.
With Ellsworth up 14-3, Garden Plain would take to the air, a rare sight for one of the best rushing teams in 2A. A 13-yard Brady Brack Touchdown connection with Cooper Baker would get the Owls right back in it.
Ellsworth would once again respond, as Loden West would find the end zone for the second time, with just 1:18 left in the first half to put the Bearcats up 21-10.
A short kickoff would set up Garden Plain with a short field to work with, and they took advantage, cutting into the Ellsworth lead on the final play of the first half, as Brady Brack connected with Ty Scheer on a 7-yard Touchdown pass, so Ellsworth would hold a 21-17 lead at the half.
In the second half, Garden Plain would continue to battle back, regaining the lead with 5:14 left to go in the third quarter, as star RB Gage Lee finally broke into the end zone on a 5-yard run, putting GPHS up 24-21.
Ellsworth, as they did all night, had an answer once again, as they’d drive down into Garden Plain territory, and score the go-ahead score on the second play of the fourth quarter, as QB Will Cravens would break loose for a 20-yard score with 11:27 to play. That put EHS up 27-24, after a blocked extra point.
Garden Plain would seemingly have another scoring drive within them, driving down the field, and that’s when the biggest play of the game happened.
Gage Lee, who has now rushed for over 1,500 yards on the season, and had not fumbled yet in 2023, finally did exactly that, losing the football and setting Ellsworth up with a short field, where they would capitalize and stretch out the lead to 34-24 on the shoulders of an 8-yard rushing score from Ian Andalon, with just 5:16 left to play.
Garden Plain would give themselves a chance, scoring on a Gage Lee run from 7-yards away, getting them to within a field goal with only 2:50 left.
The Bearcats would put together another great drive, milking the clock, and moving the ball at will. Loden West would break free for a would-be touchdown run, but slid down at the 9-yard line of Garden Plain, in an effort to try and get Ellsworth to run out the clock.
GPHS would get a stop, holding Ellsworth out of the end zone on fourth and goal, and give the Owls one last chance. Taking over under the shadows of their own goalposts, just 30 seconds on the clock.
And on the final play of the game the Ellsworth Bearcats would seal the victory, as Cole Webber would pick off the last-ditch effort by the Owls, sealing the 34-31 victory from Gard Field.
With the victory, Ellsworth advances to the Sectional Round of the 2A Playoffs, as Regional Champions.
Next week, they’ll take on, and host, 10-0 Norton High School, as the Bearcats will gain home-field advantage.
Player(s) of the Game, Presented by State Farm – Anthony Hopkins: RB Ian Andalon-Silva & RB Loden West.
Ellsworth – 0 – 21 – 0 – 13 / 34
Garden Plain – 3 – 14 – 7 – 7 / 31
***Unofficial Stats – Stats tallied by broadcast crew
W. Cravens – 6/8 completions, 77 yards
I. Andalon-Silva – 31 rush, 140 yards, 2 TDs
L. West – 12 rush, 121 yards, 2 TDs
W. Cravens – 11 rush, 54 yards, TD
L. Johnson – 1 rush, 6 yards
L. Leiker – 3 catches, 14 yards
C. Webber – 1 catch, 23 yards
R. Stone – 1 catch, 30 yards
L. Johnson – 1 catch, 10 yards
TEAM STATS – ELLSWORTH
Rushing yards – 321
Passing yards – 77 yards
Total yards – 398 yards
TEAM STATS – GARDEN PLAIN
Rushing yards – 200 yards
Passing yards – 142 yards
Total yards – 342 yards