No matter the outcome, Friday was going to be a memorable night for Metea Valley's Ben Kleinhans as he coached his first game as a head varsity football coach.
The memories will be fonder as Kleinhans watched the Mustangs come from behind three times to post a 24-22 victory over visiting Plainfield East.
"Coach (Jim) Braun has been doing this for 42 years, and he told me I'll never forget this one," Kleinhans said. "This was a perfect game for our program. We beat a darn good football team and that's what we're gonna have to do, scratch and claw and find a way at the end to win football games."
Metea's winning points were scored with five minutes remaining when Nick Dodsen kicked a 20-yard field goal. That capped a memorable night for him, as well, as it was his third successful field goal of the night, following a 20-yarder in the third quarter and a 36-yarder that pulled the Mustangs (1-0) within 22-21 with seven minutes to play.
"He's just a sophomore that we brought up one-and-a-half or two weeks ago to be a receiver and our kicker," Kleinhans said. "For a sophomore in his first varsity game, to kick the ball like that shows his character."
Cameron Wilcox paced the Mustangs offense with 172 yards rushing on 36 carries, while junior transfer quarterback Blaise Bell had 2 touchdown passes among his 122 yards passing. But to Kleinhans, the difference in the game was the Mustangs defense. The unit forced 7 Plainfield East (0-1) fumbles and recovered four, the two biggest by Tamal Kumar in the game's final six minutes. The first recovery came with Plainfield East holding that 22-21 lead and looking to run out the clock; it led to Dodsen's eventual game-winner. The second came with four minutes to play and the Bengals hoping to put together a game-winning drive.
"If we don't take care of the ball, we can't win many games," said Plainfield East coach Mike Romeli. "We had a chance to run out the clock, huge fumble. A chance to drive, huge fumble. But give Metea credit, they caused them and they recovered them."
The teams traded scores through most of the game. Plainfield East jumped ahead on Mozel Hargrays' 52-yard touchdown catch from Jacob Kotopka. The Mustangs answered with Blaze Miller's 8-yard scoring pass from Bell. Plainfield East responded with Brennen Rompa's 1-yard run, which was answered by Chase Nelson's 8-yard scoring catch from Bell, leading to a 15-15 tie at halftime. Metea took its first lead on Dodsen's first field goal, but Plainfield East answered right back with Kotopka's 20-yard hookup with Adrian Simbulan, which set up the game's climactic final moments.