The Waterloo High School football team pulled out a thrilling 28-27 victory on the road at Herrin to open the season.
Herrin came into the game ranked ninth in the state in Class 4A and jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead over the Bulldogs.
The Tigers took advantage of two Waterloo turnovers as the Bulldogs offense looked out of sync.
But Waterloo caught a break midway through the second quarter when a Herrin snap sailed over the punter’s head and the ‘Dogs recovered on Herrin’s five yard line.
The Herrin defense rose to the occasion, and on fourth and goal from the one kept Waterloo off the scoreboard.
The Tigers added another score on their next possession with a 90-yard touchdown run to head into the locker room at halftime up 21-0.
“It was not looking good for us at the half,” Waterloo head coach Dan Rose said. “We had two fumbles that gave them a short field and they made us pay. Herrin is a very good football team. Their two backs, Merril and Milner, they are a load. They made us look like we were not even on their level with some of the runs they had in that first half.”
To Waterloo’s credit, they did not tuck their tail and run but instead came out in the second half with a renewed vigor, mounting a comeback that could fuel them for the rest of the season.
Waterloo scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter on a one yard run by new quarterback Aaron Laskowski and an 11-yard touchdown catch by Nick Iorio on a fourth and 10 to cut the Herrin lead to 21-14.
The Tigers mounted a very long scoring drive early in the fourth quarter, eating a lot of time off the clock.
Waterloo’s special teams, which had blocked a field goal try in the second quarter, came up with another huge play on an extra point block and Herrin led 27-14 with about three minutes to go in the game.
Facing a forth and four from their own 27 yard line, Waterloo’s Laskowski hit Rick Wiegand with a pass up the sideline and 72 yards later, the ‘Dogs trailed 27-21.
With time running down, Waterloo lined up for an onside kick try. Kicker Ryan Aycock sent the ball short toward the right sideline, hitting a Herrin player in the legs. The ball bounced back upfield, where Aycock fell on it and Waterloo took over on the 47 yard line with 2:33 to go.
The Bulldogs offense moved the ball down to the Herrin 18 and faced yet another fourth down play with the game on the line.
Laskowski took the snap, rolled right and threw a perfect pass in stride to Kersten Panzau in the end zone for the touchdown. The extra point was good and Waterloo went up 28-27 with 41 seconds to go.
Herrin drove the ball to the Waterloo 33 in the waning seconds. With 1.6 seconds left, they went for a long game-winning field goal that looked to be partially blocked by Panzau to secure a Waterloo victory.
“Our special teams really got after it today. Two blocked field goals and a blocked PAT. It started out a little rough. You can’t put the ball on the ground,” Rose said after the come-from-behind win. “This is why we changed offenses for right here, for the second half. We are going to be running the quick no-huddle and hopefully wear some people out. Our conditioning paid off. I’m very happy with how we responded in that second half.”
Laskowski, a transfer from Chaminade, went 14-for-24 passing with 265 yards and two touchdowns. He added a rushing touchdown.
“He is a new guy at a new school on a new team, new offense, new traditions and he did a great job all summer,” Rose said. “There were some first game jitters, but he settled in and had a heck of a game.”
Wiegand also had a huge game for the ‘Dogs with seven catches for 168 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball 18 times for 85 yards and added eight tackles on defense.
Sam Dodd turned in a big night for the defense as well with 11 solo tackles and six assists. Panzau had two blocked kicks in addition to the game-winning touchdown catch.
Next up for Waterloo is its rival to the north, Columbia. The game will be at Columbia High School with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
As of Tuesday, the Columbia-Waterloo game was winning the online poll for this week’s National Guard High School Game of the Week. The game with the most votes will have on-site presence by the St. Louis Rams Street Team and members of the National Guard.
If chosen as Game of the Week, the winning team’s football program will receive a $2,000 grant.