Findlay coach Mark Ritzler was in tears talking about senior quarterback Tanner Rickle.
Despite a 28-21 Three Rivers Athletic Conference win for Findlay against St. Francis de Saleson Friday night at the Glass Bowl — in a season of near misses for the Trojans — Ritzler could not help but think of the health and well-being of the team leader.
With the game tied at 21 in the fourth quarter, Rickle broke free for a 21-yard run toward the corner of the end zone. A St. Francis defender made a last-ditch tackle and Rickle came down awkwardly on his right leg.
It appeared to be a nasty injury that required a long stretch of medical attention as an air cast was fitted for his leg and he was carted off the field.
After the injury, Aiden Eubanks rushed in from 1-yard out to give Findlay (2-3, 1-1 TRAC) a 28-21 edge with 9:25 left.
“First thing I thought was ‘I have to do this for Tanner,’” Eubanks said. “The man’s been through everything for me. He’s just a great person, and our win was for him. It’s so sad that it happened to him and there is nothing really else you can say.”
Rickle entered the game as the second-leading passer in the TRAC with 1,199 yards and 11 touchdowns, adding 298 yards rushing and eight more scores. Before the injury, Rickle had 250 passing yards, 104 rushing yards, and three rushing scores.
“He means a lot to them and it’s his team, there is no doubt about it,” Ritzler said. “He was so determined after last week and he’s over there telling me he’s sorry. He’s telling me he’s let me down and he let the team down. That’s what kind of kid he is.”
After the touchdown from Eubanks, Findlay shut down St. Francis for the rest of the game, including a late pass break-up in the end zone that secured the win.
With 2:43 to go, St. Francis (3-2, 1-1 TRAC) took over the ball at its own 6-yard line. The Knights managed to move the ball past the Findlay 25, but a last-ditch, fourth-down pass by quarterback Jakiel Wells was batted down in the end zone.
“We had a block in the back,” St. Francis coach Dan Chipka said. “We had a first down. We were moving the sticks and we had a first down. The clock was going to stop. It moved us back 10 [yards] and we are behind the sticks and it’s just difficult to convert first-and-15, first-and-20.”
St. Francis running back Malachi Wyse broke free on the first play from scrimmage for St. Francis, as he took a carry 89 yards up the middle of the field for a touchdown.
Findlay answered with a long scoring drive that was capped off by a 20-yard scoring run from Rickle.
On a fourth-and-3 early in the second, Wells found tight end Joey Carroll over the middle for an 18-yard score that gave St. Francis a 14-7 edge.
Once again Rickle responded on the ensuing drive, this time with a 1-yard scoring run to tie the game at 14.
Rickle then scored on another 1-yard run to give Findlay its first lead of the game at 21-14. The key play on the drive was a 39-yard pass from Rickle to receiver Adam Gilbert just short of the end zone.
Findlay was on the move for another score before halftime when a Rickle pass was intercepted by St. Francis defensive back RaShad Craig,who weaved his way for a 75-yard score.
Instead of a potential 28-14 Findlay lead, that tied it at 21 with 55 seconds left in the half.
In the third quarter, the scoring slowed down and both teams had costly fumbles. St. Francis coughed up the ball on a botched handoff between Wells and Wyse. Then on a sustained drive, Findlay running back Jacob Rickman lost the ball after a good gain.
The touchdown by Eubanks was the only scoring in the fourth, but the whole mood of the game changed when Rickle went down. Even Chipka was left thinking of Findlay’s star afterward.
“Perhaps there is not a better trigger-man in the TRAC,” Chipka said. “We have the utmost respect for Tanner. He’s Mr. Touchdown. He had 19 touchdowns coming into the game, and he had a couple tonight. He’s a difference maker. He’s a tremendous athlete and the ultimate competitor. You hate to see anyone go down but certainly one of the finest in the league. That’s disheartening to see.”
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