NO. 1 SPORTS STORY OF 2018
Originally published Oct. 29
With a new quarterback under center and questions along the line, nobody was quite sure what the 2018 Tiger football team would look like. Following a week one loss to rival Spirit Lake, some questions lingered. Jim Tighe’s boys then proceeded to rattle off five straight wins and finished the regular season at 7-2 to reach the playoffs. The Tigers got sent over three hours away to Norwalk with the new RPI system and pulled off a thrilling 24-20 win over the Warriors for the team’s first postseason victory since 2013. Sergeant Bluff-Luton ousted the Tigers in the state quarterfinals, but the 2018 Spencer football campaign is a season the town will remember for a long, long time.
Worth the trip
Spencer slides past Norwalk 24-20, plays SB-L in 2nd round
NORWALK - The season continues for the Spencer Tigers after they did just enough, including an enormous goal line stand and a reverse that caught the world by surprise, to knock off Norwalk 24-20 in the first round of 3A playoff action Friday night on the road, making the 3 1/2-hour ride back to Spencer a joyous one.
The Tigers advance to take on Sergeant Bluff-Luton this coming Friday for the second time this season after SB-L demolished Bishop Heelan 42-0 in the first round Friday night.
Spencer fell to SB-L 24-20 on Dale Norton Field in week seven. The second round playoff matchup between the squads will take place on the Warriors’ turf in Sergeant Bluff.
The right to a rematch didn’t come easy for the purple and gold as they had to deal with a quality group of Warriors from Norwalk.
“(They’re) very good,” Tiger football coach Jim Tighe said. “They’ve got some good linemen. The quarterback is very solid. They catch the ball well. This is a good win on the road, coming this far, and we played without Isaac Pingel most of the game, and that’s a tough thing to overcome.”
Possession first went to Spencer with the Tigers making it out to their own 36 with a couple of pitches to Pingel before punting.
A Norwalk three-and-out, clinched with a Jacob Doran pass breakup on third down forced a Warrior punt, and Michael Storey returned it out to the Tiger 43.
A flip to Pingel picked up 10 yards before Isaiah Spencer busted a run down to the Norwalk 5. Isaiah Spencer took it the final 5 yards on the next play for a 7-0 Tiger lead with 7:43 left in the first quarter.
Norwalk responded with a seven-play, 68-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 with 5:23 to go in the opening stanza.
Three Isaiah Spencer runs on the next Spencer possession picked up a first down, and a pitch to Pingel on the next play netted 4 yards. However, Pingel had to be helped off the field, forcing the coaching staff to get creative with who slotted into A/C back roles and forcing Isaiah Spencer to go both ways as a linebacker.
“Nothing bothers (Isaiah),” Tighe said. “I asked him how he was holding up. He goes, ‘I’m fine.’ His pulse never gets high. He just stays steady and is kind of laid back. That’s who he is.”
The drive unsurprisingly bogged down after Pingel’s injury and was ended by a Norwalk sack on third-and-7. Storey’s punt was then fair caught at the Norwalk 35 with a minute left in the first.
Norwalk completed a pass on first down that would have moved the sticks, but Griffin Garnatz stripped the receiver and Doran recovered it to set the Tigers up with possession on their own 46.
Gage Garnatz hit Michael Storey with a deep ball on first down to get the Tigers down to the Norwalk 21.
Isaiah Spencer did it from there, pounding it to the 9, then the 2, then the 1 and eventually into the end zone on fourth down after a fumbled snap on third down for a 14-7 Tiger lead with 10:41 until half.
Norwalk wasted no time responding, returning the ensuing kickoff 95 yards. However, the Warriors botched the PAT attempt, keeping Spencer in front 14-13 with over 10 minutes left in the second.
Spencer again needed a fourth down conversion on the next drive, picking up fourth-and-short on a QB sneak, but the drive ultimately stalled and forced a Storey punt that was downed by Karter Petzenhauser at the Warrior 1.
Norwalk couldn’t find any footing in the shadow of their own goal post, and Storey returned their punt 30 yards back down to the Warrior 13.
The Norwalk defense stood tall to force a field goal attempt from Spencer’s Cale Salton which sailed through the uprights from 25 yards out for a 17-13 Tiger lead.
“Some of our drives weren’t touchdowns, but they got the field flipped,” Tighe said. “There was the one where we punted them down around the 1, and that ended up giving us a short field, so we could get (points) on the next possession.”
The 17-13 score held until halftime, and Norwalk came out strong with the first possession of the third quarter, driving 74 yards on six plays to pay dirt to take the lead for the first time in the game at 20-17.
Spencer’s ensuing drive was another field flipper as Storey’s punt pinned the Warriors down on their own 11.
The Warriors picked up one first down before going to the air just one too many times. Storey came down with an interception and returned it to the Warrior 26.
Spencer once again ended up looking at fourth-and-goal from inside the 1, and again Isaiah Spencer punched it home to put the Tigers in front 24-20 with 1:40 to go in the third.
“Boy they had some beef up there,” Tighe said of Norwalk’s line. “Our dive play was not going to be very good tonight except for about a yard. I almost called a timeout. I didn’t like what I saw, but we got it in.”
Norwalk went three-and-out on the next drive as Chase Hough came up with a huge sack on third down to set up a fourth-and-17 deep in Warrior territory.
The punt resulted in the Tigers gaining possession on the plus side of the 50, 48 yards from the Warrrior goal line.
Spencer also went three-and-out, but another good punt from Storey pinned the Warriors on their own 9.
Norwalk proceeded to chip away at the Tiger defense, driving all the way to the 1-yard line with 6:01 to go.
The Warriors attempted a speed option out of shotgun to the Tigers’ sideline, and Isaiah Spencer met the pitch man at the 2-yard line right by the boundary, sending him flying to give the Tigers possession.
Isaiah Spencer then broke off a third-and-8 run from the 4 to the 27 for breathing room. He then took a second-and-7 quick pitch to the right side to the Tiger 30 for another first down as the clock continued to bleed away from the Warriors.
Spencer then incurred an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against the Tiger sideline, and found itself in a third-and-17 situation at the 32 with 3:24 remaining and all of Norwalk’s timeouts burned.
Tighe dug deep into the playbook for a reverse that sent Petzenhauser flying around the corner and into Norwalk territory. After yet another first down from the legs of Isaiah Spencer, the Tigers were able to kneel out the final minute of the 24-20 triumph.
Isaiah Spencer unofficially finished the night with 179 yards and all three Tiger touchdowns on 29 carries. Gage Garnatz ran 14 times for 43 yards and threw one pass for 43 yards to Storey.
Spencer put up 308 total yards of offense to Norwalk’s 272.
Friday’s trip to Sergeant Bluff comes with an opportunity to play in the Class 3A semifinals in the UNI-Dome.