Crim: Raiders’ near misses mean playing for pride instead of playoffs over final three games
QUINCY— The Quincy Notre Dame football team can only think of what might have been.
The Raiders were eliminated from playoff consideration Friday night with a 35-28 loss to Columbia (Mo.) Father Tolton at Advance Physical Therapy Field, a game in which they held a 12-point lead five minutes into the second half and seemed to be in control.
The defeat came on the heels of an excruciating 35-34 setback to Southern Boone. QND scored two late touchdowns in that contest to take the lead, although they failed on a two-point conversion attempt and an extra point kick, only to allow an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the final minute.
Claim those two winnable games and the Raiders would be carrying a three-game winning streak into their three remaining games— two of them at home— against teams with a combined four victories and a chance to earn a playoff berth.
Instead, they’re 1-5 and playing for pride.
“We just have to keep going forward and do the best we can to get the best record we can,” sophomore wide receiver-defensive back Gavin Doellman said. “It’s tough because we know we can’t make the playoffs now. We just have to focus on the team we’re playing next and not worry about what’s down the road.”
The schedule did QND no favors this season. Its first six opponents now have a combined record of 30-6, with both Quincy High School and Father Tolton still unbeaten. Richmond-Burton, which lost for the first time Friday night, has five victories, as do Mahomet Seymour and Southern Boone.
Despite that gauntlet, the Raiders know they let two winnable games — and their season — slip away.
“We’ve got to find ways to gain the lead and maintain it,” QND coach Jack Cornell said watching Father Tolton score three touchdowns in a six-minute stretch overlapping the third and fourth quarters to turn a 28-16 deficit into a 35-28 lead.
“I’ve got to do better at getting the guys in a better spot to finish the game.”
Turnovers and special teams play have proved costly.
Quarterback Noah Lunt has thrown for 424 yards the past two games but has been intercepted six times. The Raiders mishandled a kickoff early in the fourth quarter against Father Tolton, burying them deep in their own territory, and leading to a punt being returned for the game’s final touchdown.
They also committed nine penalties for 107 yards that stalled their drives and extended them for the Trailblazers, including a holding call on second goal from the 8 with less than five minutes remaining that forced them to pass instead of leaning on a reliable running game. A 16-play drive fizzled, netting no points.
A personal foul on Father Tolton’s ensuing possession gave the Trailblazers a new set of downs and enabled them to run all but 30 seconds off the clock, effectively ending any comeback aspirations.
“Turnovers (have been a problem), maybe, but that was the most penalties we’ve had in a game yet,” Cornell said. “Obviously, any time you shoot yourself in the foot, you’re not going to give yourself a chance.
“We do have a lot of things to build on.”
One of those is the emergence of tailback Ivan Hun.
Hun, who did not play football until his freshman year, rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries against Father Tolton. The first score came on a 38-yard burst up the middle in the second quarter that pulled QND within 16-14 after spotting Father Tolton a 13-0 lead, and the second on an 8-yard run early in the second half that gave the Raiders a 28-16 cushion.
This after Hun came off the bench a week earlier to run for 144 yards and a score against Southern Boone.
“He’s kind of emerged late for us and just kind of started to put things together,” Cornell said of the 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior. “He didn’t play football before he got to high school, so he did a lot of learning his first two years and now I think it’s all coming together for him.
“He’s got great balance, he’s got great strength and he does a really good job of hitting the gaps and going downhill. I’m so excited that he’s a junior and he can be back next year for us.”
Another bright spot has been the play of Doellman, who returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown late in the first half Friday night and caught six passes for 73 yards.
“Gavin is an explosive athlete,” Cornell said. “He’s just a sophomore, so he’s got a lot of his best football in front of him.
“He’s somebody that’s going to be a feature guy for us moving forward. We’ve seen glimpses of what he can be, but I still don’t think he’s come close to reaching his potential. I’m so very excited for what he’s fixing to be able to do these next couple of years.”
Instead of fighting for a potential playoff berth, the Raiders are hoping a solid finish will help ease the disappointment of only the third losing record for the program since 2002 and serve as a springboard to next season.
“You take it one day at a time,” Cornell said. “We just need to be better.”
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