Once upon a time, the NUIC did not dominate the state in small school football.
That sounds like a fairy tale, with conference teams winning 14 state titles in the past 17 years. But Orangeville’s 1989 title was only the fourth in league history, and first by a public school team in Class 1A (Stockton won in 2A in 1978, and Aquin won twice).
"This group is one of the teams that started to lay the foundation for the dominance of that conference," then-coach Brian Benning said. "They keep winning over and over and over. We are really steamrolling now."
Orangeville won state by steamrolling Lexington with 20 straight points in the fourth quarter to win 36-29 in what was picked the second greatest game in Freeport-area football history.
The Broncos trailed by 14 at halftime and 29-16 after three quarters.
"The kids showed an awful lot of heart and character," Benning said. "Having that 20-nothing fourth quarter just showed so many things that epitomized that class and that football team. They just weren’t going to quit. When the chips were down in the fourth quarter is when they played their absolute finest."
After squeaking past Sterling Newman, which just won its sixth state title under Mike Papoccia last fall, 25-22 in the quarterfinals, Orangeville rolled into the state finals by crushing Sciota Northwestern 50-6 in the semifinals. The Broncos also beat Aquin 20-0 in the second round after losing to Aquin and Galena by one point each during the regular season.
"Beating Sterling Newman was a real testament we could play at this level," quarterback Jim Moyer said.
Lexington came in undefeated and ran a no-huddle option attack. Orangeville, which reached the semifinals the year before in its only other year in the playoffs up until then, also ran the option. The Minutemen lost, in part, because they elected to pass on fourth-and-1 on their final drive, only to see Orangeville’s Mike Harnish break through for a sack.
"I kicked myself in the butt for not running the triple-option," Lexington coach Ed Moore said after the game.
Passing at a crucial time didn’t work for Lexington, but it sure worked for Orangeville (12-2). The Broncos trailed 22-8 before throwing a shovel pass to Matt Rodebaugh on their first drive of the second half.
The Minutemen tried to trash talk on that play, but Moyer had the perfect comeback.
"The one guy we don’t block is supposed to hit me," Moyer said. "He said something, but I said, ‘I ain’t got the ball any more.’ You look up and there Matt is, running for the touchdown."
The 155-pound Rodebaugh averaged 135 yards rushing but had only 21 yards on eight carries in the first half.
So the Broncos got him the ball on a play seldom seen back then, and he took it 53 yards for a TD. Orangeville had run the play only once all year.
"We practiced that all the time; we just never ran it," Rodebaugh said. "When coach Benning called that play, we knew how to run it, and a lot of people had never seen it from us."
"We just knew," Moyer said, "any time we could get the ball in Rodebaugh’s hands, he had a chance to break it. One person was not going to bring him down."
Only one person had a chance.
"We were having trouble getting things going, so I called 129 Waggle Shuffle at 2," Benning recalled. "It was wide open. The defensive end came out on the quarterback hard, which opened up the shovel lane. Jim Moyer shoveled it back inside to Rodebaugh, we sealed down the inside, and our backside guard pulled out and kicked out the corner so it was wide open at the hash mark. The safety came over down the alley. He was the only guy with a chance. Rodebaugh made him miss, and then he was off to the races from there.
"That really sparked us. We were spinning our wheels at the time and not getting anything going. That re-energized our whole club."
It got Rodebaugh moving on the ground, too. He would finish with 105 yards rushing, gaining 84 on his final nine carries. James Hort had 142 yards, 92 of them in the first half. The Broncos ran for 288 yards and finished with 447 total yards to Lexington’s 238.
And they also got a defensive score. A 7-yard run by Hort and a 3-yard run by Rodebaugh gave Orangeville its first lead since the first quarter at 30-29. Judd Pulley then scored on a 41-yard interception return to make it 36-29, and Harnish’s sack clinched the win.
"Coming from behind didn’t matter to us," Rodebaugh said. "We never gave up, we never got down on each other. We were going to play as hard as we could no matter if we won or lost."
The Moyer and Rodebaugh names still loom large in the NUIC. Moyer’s son Caden was the starting center for Dakota, which won a school-record 29 basketball games this year before losing in the final seconds to No. 1-ranked Shabbona Indian Creek in the sectional finals. And Rodebaugh’s son Garret ran for more than 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons for Orangeville.
"There are moments when I watch Garret out there and I see Matt," Jim Moyer said. "Garret’s a little taller but has the same pure strength as Matt. You can tell that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He’s just as hard-nosed as Matt was."
Matt Trowbridge: firstname.lastname@example.org; @matttrowbridge