ANNA — Anna lost quarterback Travis Meyer due to an injury early in the first quarter of a Midwest Athletic Conference game on Friday and struggled for awhile to get into a rhythm on offense. The Rockets took off in the second quarter and led by three touchdowns 15 seconds into the third quarter.
New Bremen, however, contained Anna for the rest of the game and rallied. The Rockets forced a turnover on downs with 1:25 left to secure a 28-20 win.
Meyer, a senior, fell to the ground after Anna’s first play of the game with an apparent leg injury. Anna’s training staff gave him a lengthy examination on the field for several minutes and then helped him off. Sophomore Bart Bixler played at quarterback for the rest of the game.
“It happened coming out while getting ready for the game,” Anna coach Nick Marino said. “I don’t know what the injury is or severity or anything.”
Anna (4-0, 2-0 MAC) averaged 471 yards and 50 points per game in its first three games but didn’t have near the same production on Friday. Anna had 292 yards of offense in the game, 217 of which came on the ground.
The Rockets took a 28-7 lead on a 62-yard touchdown run by Riley Huelskamp on the first play of the third and looked to ready to take off to another lopsided win like their first three games.
New Bremen (2-2, 0-2 MAC) didn’t let that happen. The Cardinals largely controlled the ball for the rest of the game with long, methodical drives. When Anna had the ball for the remainder of the second half, the Cardinals contained Huelskamp and senior running back Aidan Endsley.
New Bremen coach Chris Schmidt said he was pleased with his team’s effort in the second half.
“Our kids battled all the way to the end, and that was awesome,” Schmidt said. “In the past when that situation happens, we haven’t always responded in a positive manner. Tonight we just kept playing, made some plays, got momentum turned a little bit. I’m disappointed we came up short, but I’m tremendously proud of the effort and the grittiness our kids displayed tonight against a really good Anna team.”
Avery Powers scored a 3-yard run for New Bremen with 2:15 left in the third to cut Anna’s lead to 14 points, and Nolan Bornhorst threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Powers with 5:10 left in the fourth to cut the gap to 20 points.
The Cardinals drove into Anna territory with about two minutes left but turned the ball over on downs.
“That was one of the positives out of tonight,” Marino said of the defense forcing a turnover on downs on New Bremen’s last drive. “We did not have a very good night. We’ve got a lot of things to work on and have to get back after it tomorrow. That wasn’t a fun game, but we’ll take the win.”
Marino said losing Meyer was a blow, but he expected his players to respond better.
“We’ve got to be emotionally tougher than that,” Marino said.
New Bremen capped off a long drive and took a 7-0 lead with 3:34 left in the first quarter after Powers ran in from 13 yards out. Powers ran for 57 yards and also caught two passes for 56 yards.
“He’s a senior for us and has played a lot of football,” Powers said. “We expected him to step up and make plays for us, and he sure did. Obviously when you’ve got a kid that’s running hard and playing hard, other kids start to feed off of that. That was tremendous to see.”
Huelskamp scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds left in the first, but the extra point attempt bounced off the right goal post.
The Rockets took a 13-7 lead on an 11-yard run by Endsley with 8:24 left in the second. New Bremen tried to convert a fourth-and-short near midfield with 6:04 left, but Bornhorst was sacked by several Anna defenders.
Anna took over on New Bremen’s 29-yard line. After a few plays, Endsley ran 22 yards to move the ball to the 3-yard line. Endsley lost two yards on the next carry, but Bixler scored a touchdown on the next play. The Rockets then completed a two-point conversion try to take a 21-7 lead.
Schmidt said the game was a step in the right direction for New Bremen following a 35-0 loss to St. Henry in a MAC opener last week.
“St. Henry’s a really good team, but I maintain they’re not five touchdowns better than us,” Schmidt said. “We did not play our best, and I did not do a good job of getting us ready. I think tonight was more of the team we are. We’ve got to build off this. We’ve got a lot of football left and have to get better and try to get over the hump next week.”
The Cardinals host Parkway next Friday, while Anna hosts Delphos St. John’s. Marino said he hopes the Rockets, who were ranked third in Division V in the first weekly AP state poll, will learn from the game.
“We had a lot of things we should have done a lot better,” Marino said. “We’ve got to go back to work hard in practice next week, because we’ve got a lot to work on. It should be a major learning experience.”
Huelskamp led Anna with 140 rushing yards on 11 carries, while Endsley had 68 yards on 13 carries. Bixler completed 9-of-15 passing attempts for 75 yards.
Malachi Minnich led Anna with 11 tackles. Wil Luthman had seven tackles and two sacks, and Caleb Kauffman and Tyler McVety each grabbed an interception.
Bornhorst completed 5-of-19 passing attempts for 56 yards and rushed for 133 yards on 37 carries. Brandon Heitkamp led the Cardinals with 9.5 tackles, 4.5 of which were for a loss.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.