MONTPELIER- On an evening that began with a bright sun set west of the field, the sun also went down for the final time on the careers of nine Locomotive seniors. The beautiful sunset seemed to be an indication that Senior night was going to be a very special evening. The game provided the final opportunity for seniors Tyler Benner, Jonuh Ramos, Collin Mercer, Dan Hand, Corbin Hamrick, Jon Kulpinski, Donavan Chamberlain, Alex Cook, and Cole Ries to play in front of the home crowd, and on their home field. Benner and Mercer played huge factors in the outcome as the duo connected for one scoring strike of 14 yards; Mercer also scored another TD on an 11 yard scamper. Benner found the end zone on defense, the lone defensive touchdown of the season, as he returned an interception 48 yards for a score. However, the night also provided a preview of good things to come for freshman Dallas Royer. Royer gained 142 yards on the ground including a 28 yard jaunt that put the game out of reach early in the third quarter as the Locos demolished the Panthers 26-8.
Delta received the kickoff and started with the ball on their 43 yard line. After gaining one first down, the Loco defense shut the door on the Panthers, fueled by a sack from Alex Cook and Jared Sargent which resulted in an eight yard loss on first down.
Following a Delta punt that came to rest in the end zone, the Montpelier offense took the field for the first time with the ball on their twenty. A series of seven rushes by Benner, Mercer and Royer advanced the ball to the Delta 48. However the drive stalled their and Hand punted the ball to the Delta 27.
The Montpelier defense stymied the Panthers again, this time in just four downs. The Locos only had the ball for five downs on their ensuing possession. The outcome however was much different. Benner lost one yard on first down. On second down he connected with Mercer for a 23 yard gain. Benner picked up three more on first down, then Mercer 11 more on an option pitch. That set the stage for the duo to connect on a 14 yard aerial and the first touchdown of the night. Cody Caudill added the extra point putting Montpelier up 7-0 with sixteen seconds left in the opening stanza.
Nothing short of inspired by the score, the Loco defense promptly forced the Panthers into another three and out. The Delta punt came to rest on the Montpelier 44 and the confident offense strutted back out to the field.
Mercer was held to no gain on first down. Royer picked up a hard two, but it soon turned to 17 after the officials assessed a personal foul to Delta. Benner ground out nine yards, and then two more for another first down advancing the ball to the Panther 28. After Royer was held to no gain, the momentum took an abrupt 180 as Benner’s pass was intercepted by the Panther’s Zach Godsey. The Loco defense handled the quick change flawlessly as they forced Delta into their third consecutive three and out.
Back on offense, the Locos went to Royer again for 8 yards on first down, but the freshman lost a yard on second down. Benner called his own number on third and three, falling short of the first down and Montpelier’s Dylan Snyder punted the ball to the Delta 14 yard line.
Starting deep in their own territory, the Panthers moved the ball out to their 40 yard line in just four plays. However, once again the tide turned quickly in favor of the Locos when Benner stepped in the path of a Micha Mohr pass. The senior standout tucked the ball away twisting and turning down the side line past his teammates and the home crowd. As the coaching staff, players and fans jumped for joy, Benner left everyone in his dust covering 48 yards extending Montpelier’s lead to 13-0 with just 39 seconds remaining in the half.
The impetus the Locos took into the locker room continued early in the third quarter. After an 11 yard kick return by Levi Croft, Montpelier was in business at their 31 yard line. Mercer got the call on first down and gained one, then Benner was dropped for a one yard loss. Benner completed his third pass of the night to Keegan Hitzeman for a sixteen yard gain and another first down. Next it was Royer’s turn to put his mark on the game. First he gained 16 yards off left tackle. Benner added a one yard gain to move the ball to the Delta 28. Royer completed the drive going right through the heart of the Panther defense and into the end zone essentially untouched. The scamper put the Locos comfortably on top 19-0 with 9:12 remaining in the third quarter.
Down and essentially out, with the ball at their 33 yard line Delta showed their resolve by moving the ball to the Loco 33 in just four plays. Montpelier had a couple of chances to stop the drive, but an apparent interception by Ramos was ruled to have hit the ground and a fumble was covered by the Panthers. The two missed opportunities proved costly when Delta QB Mohr connected with Shelton Lillich for a five yard touchdown. Mohr connected with Rami Mansour for the two point conversion and suddenly the Panthers showed signs of life down 19-8 with 4:14 remaining in the third quarter.
The next two series saw both defenses dig in. Montpelier began at their 19 yard line after the ensuing kickoff. After gaining two first downs, the Locos were forced to punt from their 10 yard line when Benner was dropped for sack resulting in an 18 yard loss. Buried deep the Loco’s Snyder punted the ball to the Montpelier 33 yard line.
With great field position it looked like the Panthers were on their way to narrowing the gap even more. A completed pass moved the ball inside the red zone to the Loco 19. However, Benner impacted the game in a huge way once again when he sacked Mohr for a five yard loss. The play provided Montpelier with the boost they needed to reenergize on defense as Delta had two passes fall incomplete and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs at the Montpelier 21 yard line.
The defensive stand once again carried over to the offense. After Benner was halted for no gain on first down, Royer had his number 38 called on four straight plays. All he did was gain 42 yards and move the ball to the Delta 43. Benner picked up 18 more yards, then Royer added another 8 yards to his total. This set the stage for Mercer to make another senior memory as he burst through the middle of the Delta defense and carried a pair of Panthers into the end zone with him for an 11 yard touchdown that sealed the victory for the Locomotives.
The deflated Delta offense quickly returned the ball to the Locos when they fumbled the ball back on just their fourth play of the drive. Montpelier moved the ball down field from their 49 to the Delta 15 behind the running of Royer and Benner. At that point the final on field senior memory of the night was made. After a Montpelier time out, the Locomotive seniors walked off the field hand in hand to a standing ovation from their faithful fans. Shortly thereafter the clock registered zero and the Montpelier student body stormed the field to share the win with their classmates. What was a cool fall evening got a little colder for Coach Steven Brancheau as a few of the seniors provided him with an affectionate Gatorade shower.
One final show of appreciation was made after the game. The players and the student body who joined them on the field faced the crowd, dropped to their knees, and recited the school’s Alma Mater to the fans who had faithfully followed the Locos all season. The gesture was a fitting end to a night that not only the seniors, but the entire Locomotive family will remember for years to come.
Montpelier ended the contest with 239 rushing yards. Royer led the way with 142 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown, giving him 390 yards on the season. Benner closed out a solid career with 72 yards on 19 carries. The senior quarterback ends the season with an impressive 1194 rushing yards and almost six yards per carry to go along with 12 rushing touchdowns. Mercer ended the night with 29 yards and touchdown on the ground. Jordan Birdsall got the final tote of the season for the Locos and gained one yard, while Caudill carried the ball one time for a four yard loss.
Benner was 3 of 4 passing for 52 yards and one touchdown and one interception. He ended the season with 353 passing yards and four TD tosses. Mercer hauled in two passes for 38 yards and one score, with Hitzeman catching one aerial for 14 yards.
The win not only enabled Montpelier to end the season on a positive note but marked the first time the Locos totaled three wins in a season since 2007. The Locomotives close out the season with a 3-7 record, and 2-6 in the NWOAL. Montpelier is going to have some huge holes to fill with the loss of the nine seniors. However, again this season the Locomotives have shown that they always work hard and never give up. This attitude will be a huge asset in the rebuilding process. The cupboard is nowhere near bare with the likes of Royer, Hitzeman, and Caudill returning on both side of the ball as well as Nathan Buehrer, Jared Sargent, Adam Altaffer, and Zech Thompson just to name a few. The future looks very bright for the Locos. Stay tuned to see what memories will be made for 2013. It all begins on August 30th when Montpelier travels to Hilltop for the season opener.