In a game full of several highlight-reel plays, all anyone would talk about Monday was an early touchdown-saving tackle by running back Ezra Vaoifi.
Linebacker Nathan Iloilo had five tackles behind the line of scrimmage, the Fort Osage starting defense held visiting Winnetonka to minus-1 yard of total offense and sophomore Bryce Richardson added a pick-six in the Indians' 42-7 Class 5 District 7 championship victory over the Winnetonka Griffins.
But Vaoifi’s play changed the momentum and led the Indians to the rout.
“I don't know if I've ever seen Ezra run that fast,” joked Fort Osage coach Ryan Schartz, whose 11-0 team will play host to Kearney at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in a Class 5 state quarterfinal. “You can't really tell it from the final score, but at the time, that was a huge play.”
The Indians were leading 21-0 with just over six minutes left in the second quarter when Winnetonka's Jack Veraguth stripped the ball from Fort quarterback Skylar Thompson and appeared to be on his way to scoring on a 62-yard return when Vaoifi sprinted from midfield to make the touchdown-saving tackle.
“I saw that guy's eyes and he was (freaking out), because he knew Ezra was going to tackle him,” said Iloilo, who anchored the rock-solid Indians defense. “That play was so cool, man. I mean the guy had 20 yards on Ezra and he chased him down and caught him.”
As his teammates were talking about the tackle, Thompson – who completed 10 of 18 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score – joined the conversation.
“When I saw Ezra tackle the guy, I was like, 'Praise the Lord,’” Thompson said as Vaoifi patted him on the back. “I still don't know what happened. The ball just kind of slipped out. That play (by Ezra) was huge, and then, we got the ball right back. That's how tough our defense was playing tonight.”
With a first-and-10 on the Fort 14-yard-line, Iloilo hit running back Marquise Doherty, who fumbled the ball. Jonah Tuimaseve fell on it for the Indians, who then drove 86 yards capped by Thompson's 1-yard dive into the end zone with 3.5 seconds left in the half.
And the rout was on. Thompson also threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Jesse McBee and a screen to Vaoifi, who turned it into a 25-yard score.
“The way we're playing right now is crazy – amazing. It doesn't feel real,” said Iloilo, who had multiple tackles behind the line of scrimmage for the second week in a row. “When you play next to a guy you'd die for, this is the type of football you play.
“I'd die for any one of my brothers on this team. We're a family, and family members never let each other down. Look at what Ezra did, saving that touchdown. That inspired the defense to force that fumble. We feed off each other out there.”
The final Fort Osage score came on Richardson's 44-yard return of a Julius Sebastiano pass in the third period. Schwartz played all reserves in the fourth period with the running clock.
Vaoifi kept his streak alive of rushing for 100-plus yards in each game this season by carrying the ball 30 times for 130 tough yards and two scores. He added the 25-yard screen pass for a score and a two-point conversion.
“It's not about the yards, it's about the end result,” Vaoifi said as he munched on food supplied by the Indians Booster Club. “We're playing our best ball of the season, and we're doing it when it counts.”
Added center Blake Griffin: “Winnetonka is one of the best teams we've played this far, and we played one of our best games. We're still taking it one game at a time and can't wait for Saturday.”