DIGHTON — David Cramer batted the ball in the air, it bounced off an Otis-Bison defender’s helmet, off his back, and fell towards the earth, where Cramer, Dighton’s star receiver, was entangled with another Otis-Bison defender.
Somehow, the ball fell into Cramer’s left hand, and he wrapped his arms around the defender and secured the ball with his right hand, lifting it up for the referees to see.
After a moment of discussion, the refs raised their arms to signal touchdown, the final score in Dighton’s 44-36 win in the eight-man, division II state quarterfinal victory Friday night.
“It always pays to have a little luck on your side,” Dighton head coach Ken Simon said of the miraculous catch, which was featured on the MaxPreps (@maxpreps) official Twitter account, and will be the highlight of a cold-swept game played in 17-degree weather.
The Hornets were leading 38-36 at the time and were facing fourth-and-13 at Otis-Bison’s 24-yard line. Hoffman scrambled to his right, looking for a receiver.
Instead, he found Cougar defenders chasing him. He ducked under one, ran ahead a couple of yards, then found himself grabbed around the ankles.
Falling to the ground, he heaved a high-arcing pass into the end zone, where Cramer made what Dighton fans may forever call “The catch."
If that’s the catch, then Dalton Hoffman’s play just minutes after Cramer’s crazy catch will be dubbed “The interception,” as he picked off Otis-Bison in the end zone.
The senior, one of only nine players on the Hornets squad, ripped away a pass from Anton Foust. If Otis-Bison scored, they were a two-point conversion away from tying it and sending the game into overtime.
Instead, Dighton ran out the clock and celebrated the win as they advance to next week’s semifinal game at Osborne.
“It’s a testament to the toughness of these guys,” Simon said. “I’m so proud of them with what they’ve been able to accomplish. Every day it’s a grind with nine guys. It gets frustrating, but we just stick it out, and we prepare hard every week. It showed on the field tonight.”
The Cougars’ final drive spanned six plays, getting down to Dighton’s 21 with 31 seconds to play.
They spiked the ball to stop the clock, then ran the fateful pass play to the end zone that ended their season and kept the Dighton Nine alive for at least one more week.
“What a great football game,” Simon said. “We played against one of the best eight-man teams in the state right there, and one of the best eight-man players I’ve ever seen in Anton Foust. He was tough to stop, and we didn’t stop him, but we made enough plays to get it done here.”
Otis-Bison struck first when Foust broke away for a 73-yard scoring run, the only points of the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, though, Dighton got on the board when Blair Hoffman found Marcus Rowe for a short pass that turned into a 53-yard score.
A 20-yard pass play gave the Cougars a 14-6 lead, but Blair Hoffman scored from two yards and later found Cramer for a 4-yard strike, sandwiching scores around a Cougar touchdown to go into halftime down 26-22.
They took a 30-22 lead at 7:03 in the third when Rowe caught his second touchdown pass from 2 yards out.
Foust closed the gap to start the fourth with a 9-yard run to get his team within 30-28.
But on Dighton’s next series, they killed a lot of clock with a 12-play drive that consumed almost six minutes, ending on a pitch play to Dalton Hoffman and a 38-28 lead with 5:17 to play.
The Hornets defense nearly stopped the Cougars on fourth-and-six on the next series before two big plays got the visitors within 38-36, setting up the last-minute heroics of the undermanned Dighton squad.
“We showed a great deal of toughness getting this win, beating a great team,” Simon said.
Foust finished the season with 23 rushing and 22 passing touchdowns (85 combined in the past two seasons).
Blair Hoffman has now thrown for 37 touchdowns with only two interceptions, but the latest passing score was a little bit of fortune smiling on the quarterback.
“I was on the ground when the ball was in the air. When I let go of it, I was just praying,” he said. “I have helluva receivers, and they made miracles happen tonight.”
The Hornets (9-2) started the season 1-2 but have now reeled off eight straight wins as they now get ready to travel to Osborne for a state semifinal game.
“That’s who we were expecting,” Simon said. “We’ll start preparing hard. I think for the most part we came out healthy. We’re beat up because we played against a physical team, but obviously with nine guys, that’s the main thing. The football gods have been on our side.”
A win will put the Hornets back into the state title game, which they lost in 2016.