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Team effort leads Mitchell to stunning comeback win

The lead was 10 and the playoffs were in sight, just 43 yards and 7 minutes, 42 seconds away.

River Ridge had the ball and drove into Mitchell territory. The drive stopped on the 43. It was third and 6.

A first down keeps the drive, and the clock, going. Another score clinches it. A good punt would pin the Mustangs deep.

Game over, right?

Wrong. It was just getting started.

River Ridge fumbled the snap, Mitchell recovered and a wild comeback elevated this already intense rivalry to a new level. The Mustangs won 19-17 Friday, clinching the Class 4A, District 7 runner-up spot.

Mitchell's third-year varsity program scored two touchdowns in the final seven minutes and endured Baker's missed 31-yard field goal with 4.3 seconds left to return to the postseason, while the more established Knights will miss the playoffs for a fifth straight year after the toughest loss of coach Mike DeGennaro's four seasons.

"We did a great job coming back when we needed to," said Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz, nervously eyeing two coolers of cold Gatorade nearby. "Chris Watts played a gutsy dang football game. Spencer Brown made some plays when we needed to and we made some plays up front when we needed to.

"They all did a good job."

How they did it was amazing, too. Schmitz, devotee of the Wing-T, let offensive coordinator and son Andy open up the playbook. Once, Spencer Brown and Chris Watts shared quarterback duties. But with Watts under center and Brown running downfield, the two became key to Mitchell's comeback.

Watts went 9-of-15 for 175 yards and Brown caught six passes for 144 yards and ran for 57 yards. Watts' 61-yard pass to Brown set up Mitchell's first-half touchdown, a 9-yard Mark Pijanowski run. Even better, after a 3-of-8 first half, Watts went 6-of-7 in the second. Watts scored the first touchdown on a 1-yard sneak, cutting the deficit to 17-13 with 5:05 left. Brown's 20-yard run made it 19-17 with 3:25 left (both point-after attempts failed).

"We tried to take what somebody gives us," Schmitz said, "and they were giving that to us. They were having trouble defending the waggle and our wheel route and we just kept going to it, until they stopped us.

"But they never did. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

But turnovers and play-calling alone didn't win it. In practice this week, Schmitz demanded his team show more leadership on the field, and he didn't mean the rah-rah stuff. He wanted players to lead by making plays, the kind that can turn a sub-.500 team into a playoff one.

"Players need to make plays," Schmitz said. "We need to make football plays."

Everyone, it seemed, did, whether it was J.J. Campbell's first-half interception, ending a River Ridge drive; or Troy Adams recovering that fateful Knights fumble; or Brown breaking open and Watts delivering strike after strike to him; or Spiro Tsagaris helping sack River Ridge's Ryan Mistal on the game's last furious drive.

"We were never thinking like we were down," Tsagaris said. "We came out with the intensity that we were still in the game."

Said Adams: "We never gave up. We never gave up."