After starting the season 0-3, Friday night's game against Conner may not have technically been a must-win for Dixie, but it certainly felt like one from a morale standpoint.
"For us I think it's hurt our team chemistry and morale because our guys start to wonder what we're capable of doing," Dixie head coach Tom Spritzky said about the slow start to the season. "We just tell them keep working hard and keep giving great effort and good things will eventually happen."
The Colonels gave a strong four quarter effort to hold off talented sophomore quarterback Drew Barker and Conner's offense, and good things finally came in the form of a 40-28 win.
Dixie played the game like it meant a lot from the get-go. The coaching staff set the tone with a creative play-call on the first play from scrimmage when they ran a double-reverse pass with wide receiver Brandon Hatton who hit fellow receiver Jon PItzer in stride for a 65-yard touchdown.
What makes the play-call even more interesting is the fact that the play was Hatton's first as a Dixie football player and his first live action period since seventh grade. Hatton is a standout basketball player who led the Colonels to a 9th Region Championship last year and just joined the football team about a month ago.
A big defensive goal line stand by the Conner defense on Dixie's second possession gave the Cougars enough momentum to get their offense rolling. Starting at their own two yard line, Conner drove down the field on the right arm of Barker who found wide receiver Cody Huff over the middle for a 31-yard touchdown strike to tie the game up at the end of the first quarter.
Quarterback Zeke Pike gave Dixie the lead back when he scored on a keeper from three yards out just two minutes into the second quarter. The touchdown run was setup by a 40-yard pass from Pike to Hatton.
--Postgame video: Zeke Pike - Dixie Heights
--Postgame video: Tom Spritzky - Dixie Heights
Conner answered right back with a scoring drive of their own that was capped off by a four yard touchdown run by Barker to tie the game back up with 6:37 left in the half. Just over a minute later though, Dixie took the lead back when running back Colin Justice took it in from seven yards away.
The Colonels' defense came up with a big stop and gave their offense the ball back with plenty of time to put another score on the board. Pike extended the lead to 28-14 heading into the locker rooms with a seven yard touchdown toss to PItzer – his second of the game.
After Pike's 16-yard touchdown run gave Dixie the 34-14 lead to end the third quarter, it was time for Dixie's defense to do something they hadn't been able to do so far this season – hold the lead.
Barker and running back Dylan Levsey made things interesting as they both racked up the yardage in the fourth quarter. Barker was able to scramble and turn busted plays into big gainers. He cut into Dixie's lead with a 30-yard touchdown run just 30 seconds into the fourth quarter. Levsey made it a one possession game when he scored on a 20-yard touchdown run with 8:02 left.
After recovering the ensuing onside kick, the Dixie offense marched down to the 15 yard line before settling for a 32-yard field goal attempt. The kick was pushed right but Conner was flagged for roughing the kicker. The penalty moved the ball half the distance to the goal and it took Pike just one play to score from eight yards out and seal the game 40-28 with just 3:11 left.
"It feels good just to get back on track," Pike said after the game about hanging on to the lead in the second half. "We were up against CovCath and obviously we let them get back in it. We just wanted to stick our stake in the ground and come out and play hard for 24 more minutes and finish strong."
For Dixie, Justice carried 10 times for 109 yards and Pitzer was their leading receiver with six catches for 113 yards and two scores.
Conner was led by Barker who ran 28 times for 198 yards and had three touchdowns – two rushing and one passing. The sophomore was 15-of-28 passing with 99 yards. Most of those yards came on passes to Jake Mulderink who was his top target with six catches for 64 yards.
Dixie moves to 1-3 on the season while Conner falls to 1-2.
*Written by: Rick Broering, TriStateFootball.com