School of the Osage had to dig deep Friday night in its Tri-County Conference opener with California.

School of the Osage had to dig deep Friday night in its Tri-County Conference opener with California.  

Whether it was turnovers or penalties or any other unfortunate play, the Indians had not quite found their groove trailing by a touchdown heading into the fourth quarter.

Thankfully for the Indians, the final quarter proved to be the best one as they erased that narrative and the deficit to beat the Pintos 20-14.

“It takes heart, never giving up and always believing in your teammates,” said Osage senior Jack Dulle who not only delivered the game-tying touchdown, but recovered a fumble that put his team in great position to take the lead. “That is the key to the game and key to having a great team is trust and heart. You have to play with that every down.”

Well, Dulle certainly seemed to be a man of his word as he provided a spark the team had long been searching for. 

Facing a 3rd-and-16, the senior reeled in a 15-yard slant from senior quarterback Drew Edwards who proceeded to execute a short quarterback keeper to convert a 4th-and-1 at the California 26-yard line. Just a few moments later, Dulle’s number was called again on a screen pass and he followed his blockers eight yards and stumbled into the end zone after taking a hit to tie the game at 14. 

“This is when it matters, it all matters right here,” Dulle said he thought to himself on the play. “You have to punch it in and get that lead.”

When California fumbled the ball on the first play of the next drive, Dulle was there to recover the ball and set Osage up for what proved to be the game-winning 47-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard quarterback sneak from Edwards with 5:10 remaining. The defense took care of the rest, stopping the Pintos on two final drives to allow the offense to line up in victory formation.

“He is a kid that has done everything for us since the first day here. He was in seventh grade when we first got here and he is a player that has done absolutely everything asked of him and beyond,” Johnson said of Dulle who led the receiving corps with four receptions for 68 yards and added another 21 rushing yards on six carries. “Everything he gets he earns, I mean he is 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds. He puts his heart and soul into it and plays like that just show the hard work and progress he has made since he was a kid.”

It was a pleasant finish to what was a rocky start for Osage.

After forcing California to go three-and-out on the opening drive of the night, Osage senior Matthew Hans muffed the first punt and the Pintos took advantage with a short 11-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a jump ball slant on 4th-and-5 to put the visitors up 7-0 early. 

Osage turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing drive, failing to convert a 4th-and-2, but managed to get things going on the next drive that went 69 yards. Osage senior receiver Logan Havner hit Dulle for 24 yards on a 3rd-and-7 double pass play and Havner soon found himself on the receiving end of a 25-yard touchdown strike from Edwards who found his teammate 1-on-1 with a Pinto defender on a vertical route.

California answered with a 58-yard drive that ended on a 14-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-10 to retake the lead with 2:12 left in the first quarter. However, it was the final time the Pintos would put any points on the board for the rest of the night.

“We actually just dialed back and went to our base defense. We lived in base and made them make the reads in the option game,” Johnson said of his defensive unit.

“We did not really let them drive the field on us I feel like, but made them work for what they got… Defensively we have areas we can improve but for two weeks in a row now we have not given up a point in the second half so that is pretty good.”

While the defense was sharp, it took a little longer to get things working on the offensive side of the ball. There were two interceptions in the second quarter, a 27-yard pass to Havner on 4th-and-11 negated by a holding penalty that would have put the Indians in first-and-goal and two other drives in the third quarter that fizzled out as Osage was entering California territory.

“Any time we felt we felt we started to get a little momentum we’d have a penally, turnover or something and it always seemed to be us. We were stopping ourselves,” Johnson pointed out. “California is a good football team and I’m not taking anything away from them, but it just seemed like we were not making the big plays to get momentum.”

Well, Osage found that momentum in the fourth quarter and when California got the ball back trailing by 6 with 1:56 left to go for one last shot at a win, the Indian defense made the stop it needed to turn the ball over on downs. Facing 4th-and-10, the Pintos were stopped three yards shy of the sticks on a pass play at their own 35 as senior Luke Funderburk, and fellow senior James Hutchcaft were there to make the crucial stop. Hutchcraft had 11 tackles at linebacker, including two sacks, to lead the defense and senior defensive lineman Rudy Escobar finished with 10.

“When we want to, we can be an awesome defense. We have the heart, the drive, the talent, we got it all,” Dulle said. “We just have to put it all together for four quarters and we’ll be fine.” 

Edwards completed 11 of his 15 passes for 150 yards and two scores while Havner completed two passes for 36 yards while pulling in two receptions for 38 yards. Hans added four receptions for 35 yards, senior tight end Matt McCubbin added a catch for 12 yards and Hutchcraft also had a catch for 11 yards. On the ground, Hutchcraft led the way with 14 carries for 69 yards while Edwards added 13 yards on 16 carries.

Osage (2-1, 1-0 Tri-County Conference) will host Hallsville for Homecoming Friday night at 7 p.m. Between now and then, Johnson said there is plenty to clean up but he likes the resolve that was on display.

“We made a lot of mistakes and hut ourselves quite a few times during this game. But to give our kids credit, they found a way to come back and win,” he said. “Through all the mistakes they made and al the bad things that happened, they could have hung their head, quit and rolled over and they came back an played harder every series. That is the kind of football you have to play in our conference, but you cannot make those mistakes and expect to be very successful.”  

Time will soon tell if Osage continues to have the resolve it needs in the next chapter on the gridiron.