A huge sigh of relief mixed with sheer exultation Friday at Dewey Field, especially for the Perry seniors, after the Bluejays topped Greene County, 17-14, in the 86th playing of the Cowbell Game.
Perry’s senior gridders had not won the trophy in their careers and were the victims of a 24-21 loss as freshmen when a last-second 42-yard field goal try bounced off the crossbar. Blowout losses of 35-0 and 38-0 followed, but the heartbreak and frustrations were erased Friday as the the boys clad in blue were finally able to ring the coveted Cowbell.
The Rams (1-7, 1-5) tied the game with a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes from Clint Dennhardt, who spent much of the game running from a suddenly resurgent Bluejay pass rush. Dennhardt found Lance Hughes in a crease in the coverage for a 39-yard TD to make it 14-7 before leading a masterful march down the field in the final three minutes.
Perry was forced to punt after a short run and two incomplete passes that took very little time off the clock.
An energized Ram offense sprang to life, with Dennhardt completing five of six passes to lead the guests to the Perry six-yard line as time wound down. Greene County had the ball two plays later and tried furiously to get set and spike the ball, which did not appear to happen before the clock read all-zeroes.
Perry players began to pour onto the field, but the officials — who drew the repeated ire of the Bluejay coaches and occasional wrath of their Ram counterparts throughout the game — somehow decided Dennhardt had spike the ball in time and ordered a final play.
Dennhardt rolled and found Carter Morton for a touchdown. A post-TD taunting penalty moved the PAT attempt to the 18-yard line, but Leonardo Marques hit the 35-yard boot to force overtime.
Prep overtime rules call for each team to have a possession on the 10-yard line, and Greene County was first with the ball.
Two runs resulted in a net loss of two yards, with an incomplete pass and a motion penalty pushing the ball to the 17 on fourth down. Well within Marques range, the Rams opted to try for a TD, but Mana Martinez cut in front of the intended receiver just shy of the goal line and intercepted the pass, ending the possession.
Mark Campos, who was seeing his first action since the third week of the season, ran twice for Perry to the one-yard line. Garrido was stuffed on third down, and Perry turned to Alvarenga, who calmly booted an 18-yard field goal to set off the celebration.
“The defense played tremendously for 44 of the 48 minutes of regulation, then played their butts off in overtime,” Perry co-head coach Matt Hardy said. “That was a phenomenal effort by the 11 guys on the field defensively in overtime.”
The Bluejays (3-5, 2-4) had scored less than two minutes into the game when Kaleb Olejniczak took a short pass from Alexis Garrido, made a man miss, then sprinted 41 yards into the end zone. German Alvarenga’s PAT made in 7-0 just 72 seconds into the contest.
The score stood unchanged until the third quarter, when Reece Dunlap took an inside hand off, slipped around right end, then simply outran everyone wearing white 83 yards for a score and a 14-0 lead.
Perry dominated all but the final half of the fourth quarter but were plagued by four turnovers and penalties.
“We moved the ball well between red-zone and red-zone, then either made silly mental mistakes or kept turning the ball over,” Hardy said. “We almost let this get away when we should have had many more points.”
Dennhardt was 19-36-1 for 197 yards and two scores but was sacked five times and finished with 19 carries for minus-36 yards. Jordan Patterson threw one pass in the fourth quarter, hitting Austin Easterlie for seven yards.
Trey Hinote (5-35), Jordan Patterson (4-36) and Hughes (2-51, 1 TD) led the Ram receivers, with Jake Berns (14-61) and Colby Kafer (7-25) leading a ground game that finished with 62 yards on 42 carries.
Perry ran for 228 yards on 31 attempts, with Dunlap’s burst lifting the totals. He finished with a TD and 123 yards on three carries, with Garrido (15-72), Campos (12-31) and Donald Chavez (1-2) also carrying the pigskin.
Garrido was 12-28-2 for 155 yards and a score. Brandon Kenyon (5-66), Olejniczak (2-45, 1 TD) and Dunlap (5-44) all caught passes.
Campos had 8.5 tackles and one for a loss of yards, with Ethan McFarland making eight tackles, four behind the line of scrimmage. Cole Snyder had 5.5 stops (three for losses) and Rony Reyes four stops (one for a loss). Snyder finished with three sacks and McFarland and Reyes with one each.
Perry finishes their season Friday at Iowa Falls-Alden (1-7, 0-6). A win would give Perry four victories in a season for the first time since 2013 and would make Hardy a victor in his return to his home town.
“The kids know I am from Iowa Falls,” Hardy said. “I told them the last time I was on Cadet Field I left a winner, and I anticipate being a winner the next time I am on Cadet Field.”