The biggest regular-season football game in Pasadena, the 2018 Dena Bowl, didn’t disappoint. With two playoff-caliber teams, Northeast and Chesapeake, making highlight-reel throws, causing clutch turnovers and sparking dynamic special teams plays, this year’s match on November 2 was one to be remembered.
Northeast came away with the 28-27 victory after a 42-yard field goal attempt by Chesapeake sailed wide right with one second remaining, but the game was defined by much more than one play. The Eagles overcame a 20-point halftime deficit to make the game an instant classic and even the teams’ records at 7-3.
Chesapeake started the scoring early. Third-down passes from Dylan Young to Colton Spangler and then Hunter Davis kept the Cougars’ opening drive alive and set them up in Northeast territory. With a pass-rusher to his left and another in his face, Young stood tall in the pocket and threw a 25-yard pass to Davis for the first score. After the extra point by Spangler, Chesapeake led 7-0.
On the ensuing Northeast possession, the Eagles looked to turn the game into a shootout after an over-the-shoulder sideline catch by Josh Krcik and a quarterback draw by Riley Pitt, but the drive stalled, and the team punted. Chesapeake’s Russell Tongue fielded the punt and sliced through the Northeast special teams unit on his way to the end zone and a 13-0 Chesapeake lead.
Stepping in for an injured Pitt, Northeast quarterback Billy Katzenberger lobbed a 14-yard pass to the right corner of the endzone where Krcik, with his arms outstretched, hauled in the touchdown throw. With 11:55 to play in the half and the score 13-7, the Dena Bowl looked more like the game both schools expected. But then Chesapeake’s aerial assault took over once again. Young threw a bomb to Tongue to pick up more than 50 yards, and the duo finished the drive with another hookup from 25 yards out to extend the lead to 20-7.
Northeast couldn’t muster much offense on the next possession, and Chesapeake took over at midfield with 8:39 left in the half. The Eagles stuffed a run and forced Young to overthrow two deep passes, but the Cougars went for a fourth-down attempt. This time Young found Davis on fourth-and-11. Runs by Jaylen Richardson and Zach Schuler moved Chesapeake to the 9-yard-line. Taking the snap from the shotgun, Young took a few steps to his right and threw left to hit his receiver Tongue, who ran away from one defender and jumped over another to snare the pass before scoring to make it 27-7.
Down 27-7 with 2:46 to play in the half, the Eagles didn’t relent. Bennett Diaz took a screen pass and squirmed through narrow running lanes to gain 20 yards. But the Cougar D, led by Cody Carpenter’s sack and tackle-for-loss, kept Northeast from moving past their 32-yard-line.
Rain pattered both the field and the crowd after halftime. For the Eagles, who lost last year’s Dena Bowl to their rivals, 17-0, it would have been easy to surrender.
Northeast head coach Brian Baublitz reminded his team of the 1984 college football comeback in which Maryland was down to Miami 31-0 at halftime. Frank Reich tossed six touchdowns in that game to give Maryland a 42-40 victory.
“My whole point was some of the best games you’re ever going to be involved with are comeback victories, so we preach that,” Baublitz said. “We also preach that we cannot turn our backs on each other. Never.”
With that message in mind, Krcik rejuvenated his team and the visitors stands by taking a punt return down the sideline, swatting away several would-be tacklers to make the score 27-14 after the successful extra point by Tyleek Coleman.
“I knew that we needed to spark energy in our team, so I saw a hole, took it and it just led me to the promised land,” Krcik said.
On Northeast’s ensuing possession, Ethan Young spun out of several tackles to pick up 23 yards. A sack from Cougar Zach Baumann pinned Northeast in a third-and-16 situation, but Katzenberger saw Diaz cutting left across the field and they connected for a pass to the 1-yard line. Young barreled in behind the left side of his offensive line to score with 26 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
At 27-21 Chesapeake, the Dena Bowl was back to being anyone’s game.
On Northeast’s next possession, Jayden Mason came up with a big interception, Danny Baker gained 12 yards on a reverse and Krcik carried the ball up the middle to the 1-yard line. Just as Northeast was about to take a lead, a fumble gave the Cougars possession and the home crowd erupted in jubilation.
With Chesapeake backed up to their own end zone, facing third-and-9, Dylan Young scrambled left and launched a pass 38 yards over a defender and into the arms of Davis. A few plays later, the game seemingly in hand for Chesapeake, Young threw another interception, this time to Krcik.
The Eagles were forced to punt, but they would get one more shot at Dena Bowl redemption. With 2:19 left in the game, starting from their own 45-yard line, they began their comeback by taking a sack from Baumann. A fourth-down conversion and subsequent personal foul penalty on Chesapeake put Northeast at the 25-yard line. Under pressure, Katzenberger rolled to his right and Diaz ran parallel across the field, making a sliding catch to move the Eagles to the 8-yard line.
Boisterous chants, applause and gasps of frustration bellowed from the crowd as Katzenberger sent Krcik in motion. The quarterback scrambled left and fired the ball to Krcik, who sprinted to the left corner of the endzone in time to catch the go-ahead touchdown. After the extra point, Northeast led 28-27 with 24 seconds left.
“When I was going in motion, I went right into the bubble as soon as I got to the outside of the field, and I was open,” Krcik said, summing up his monumental score.
The Cougars, not giving in, moved past midfield on a 21-yard strike from Dylan Young to Davis. With 4.8 seconds remaining, they went for the field goal. It missed.
“We battled,” said Chesapeake head coach Rob Elliott. “Northeast made one more play than we did. We knew they were a good team and that punt definitely was a momentum-changer for them. The fourth quarter was back and forth, and they made more plays than we did.”
It was especially exciting for Northeast and Katzenberger, who was the “next man up” after the injury to Pitt. Katzenberger gave all the credit to his offensive line, receivers and running backs.
“It’s big because we’re both Pasadena teams,” he said. “They’re always talking, we’re always talking too. I did it for the seniors and everyone around me. It was so great. It’s a big game and we pulled it out.”
Northeast also pitched a shutout in the second half.
“We were very surprised on the way they moved the ball on us in the first half,” Baublitz said. “We really thought our corners and our defensive backs matched up well with their receivers, so we were really surprised about that, but the second half we tweaked some things. We moved one of our corners who was on their No. 1 receiver, Tongue, into the slot and moved the other one outside. It made a difference.”
Coming into the game, Chesapeake had a slight lead in the 3A East standings. The following Sunday, the players learned that their first playoff game, scheduled for November 9 at 7:00pm, will be a rematch of the Dena Bowl at Chesapeake.
“We prepared like this was the last game of the season,” Baublitz said. “We said, ‘Look, we are playing in a championship game. No matter what happens, we get to push the reset button and go at it again.’ We also talked about how they’re 2018 Dena Bowl champs and nobody can ever take that away from them. That’s huge in this community.”