In a game that featured big play after big play, the Morris Area football team ultimately fell for the first time on Friday because of its inability to convert two-yard plays.
The Tigers and Paynesville had the football -- and players -- flying all over the field Friday night at Big Cat Stadium, but four failed conversion attempts after touchdowns and costly turnovers doomed the Tigers to a 26-24 loss.
Morris Area fell to 2-1 overall while Paynesville remained undefeated at 3-0. The Tigers play next at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25.
Morris Area's Tyler Hansen immediately foreshadowed the type of game the Tigers and Bulldogs were in for Friday night when he took off on a sweep right on the game's first play from scrimmage and ran virtually untouched for a 92-yard touchdown.
The fun and coaching migraines were cranked up a notch just two minutes later when Paynesville quarterback Jason Kampsen connected with tight end Justin Frank on a 50-yard scoring pass that tied the game.
That was just the start of the offensive circus. Combined, the Tigers and Bulldogs had 11 plays that gained 28 yards or more, and five of the eight touchdowns the teams scored were 50 yards or longer.
Both teams squandered chances at the end of the first quarter and on into the second, with Hansen throwing an interception on a halfback option pass on second down from the Bulldogs 37 with three minutes left in the first quarter, and Paynesville turned the ball over on downs with 10 minutes left at the Tigers 23, and lost it again on downs at the Morris Area 22 on its next possession.
Then, it was back to the big plays.
The Tigers took a 12-6 lead when quarterback Ryan Beyer hooked up with Eric Riley on a 71-yard scoring pass with 1:53 left in the first half. Paynesville needed just one minute to take the lead. Kampsen hit Frank for a 55-yard touchdown with 52 seconds left.
Paynesville receiver Tanner Wendroth wasn't officially credited with a reception, but he may have made the catch of the game on the next play, hauling in a Kampsen pass for the game's only two-point conversion to give the Bulldogs a 14-12 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs and Tigers traded interceptions on their first possessions of the second half, but Paynesville running back and defensive back Josh Bungum completed what he started in ending a crucial Morris possession.
Morris' Ethan Bruer intercepted Kampsen and set up the Tigers nicely with a return from midfield to the Bulldogs six yard line. But Hansen, again on the halfback option, threw an ill-advised pass from the Bulldogs' 10 yard line that Bungum swallowed up in the end zone to squelch the threat. Five plays later, Bungum was in the other end zone, taking a pitch 46 yards for a score that gave Paynesville a 20-12 lead.
After another Tigers turnover on their next possession -- Beyer lost a first-down fumble at the Morris Area 33 -- Frank hauled in a beautiful fade from Kampsen before going out of bounds at the Tigers five yard line. Running back Matt Doom scored on the next play for a 26-12 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Tigers didn't buckle and threw a twist at the Bulldogs, lining up Riley at quarterback on their next series. The move worked. Riley completed a 35-yarder to Tanner Berning and a 38-yarder to Hansen that set up Beyer's seven-yard scoring toss to Berning with 2:24 left in the third that pulled the Tigers with eight at 26-18.
Riley, playing linebacker on defense, recovered a fumble on Paynesville's next possession at the Bulldogs 27, and six plays later Hansen scored his second touchdown from two yards out to make it 26-24 with 10:48 to play. But again, the Tigers couldn't replicate that two-yard play on the conversion attempt.
Bruer's second interception of the game with 8:15 to play gave the Tigers another excellent scoring chance, but another ill-advised pass led to an interception and killed the potential go-ahead score after the Tigers had first down at the Paynesville 14 yard line with seven minute left.
The Bulldogs chewed up almost five minutes before punting. The clock-eating drive included a gutsy fourth-down conversion from their own 25 yard line with four minutes left.
Morris Area got the ball back after the punt, but an offensive pass interference penalty and a couple of incompletions left the Tigers facing a 3rd-and-25 from the Paynesville 42. Bulldogs linebacker Eric Wolbeck hit Riley's arm as he wound up to pass and linebacker Dillon Christinsen picked off the deflection with 90 seconds to play. Paynesville ran out the clock.
The Bulldogs did a solid job of slowing the Tigers' ground game, allowing just 60 rushing yards after Hansen's 92-yard scoring run. The Tigers threw for 241 yards but the four interceptions hurt them badly.
Hansen had 211 yards from scrimmage -- 116 rushing and four receptions for 95 yards -- and the two scores, and Beyer hit on 6-of-13 throws for 139 yards and the touchdowns to Riley and Berning. Morris Area managed 393 yards of total offense but gave up 408 yards to the Bulldogs.
Doom carried 11 times for 74 yards and Bungum had 70 yards on 11 carries. Kampsen hit 6-of-15 throws for 191 yards and the two scores to Frank, who finished with four catches for 139 yards.