Dwenger kicker finds calm to deliver game-winner

On the outside, Bishop Dwenger High School kicker Michael Garrett looked calm enough, considering the circumstances.

Turns out, he has a great poker face.

“When they called timeout, my heart was beating fast,” Garrett said. “My coach came over and talked to me and calmed me down. You go out there and make it and it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Garrett’s 27-yard field goal with 59 seconds left – his third field goal of the game – gave Dwenger a 15-14 football win over rival Bishop Luers on Friday at Zollner Stadium.

Because we’re numbed by watching college and pro football kicks, we tend to think of 27-yard field goals as automatic. We think they’re easy. But at the high school level, few teams have a consistent field goal kicker. Even fewer end up in a situation where the kick can win or lose the game.

“As unfortunate as it is for our kids and as bad as I feel for our kids, I can’t help – having played that position – of feeling proud of a kid like that,” Luers coach Kyle Lindsay said. “I don’t know their kicker, but that’s big time. You come into that situation, and he drilled it.”

Dwenger (5-2) was in position for the game-winning kick because its defense had forced a fumble, pounced upon by sophomore linebacker Hayden Ellinger and returned to the Luers’ 16-yard line with 2:09 left. As it had much of the night, Luers (4-3) used an active, aggressive defense to stuff Dwenger’s offense in the red zone.

“Defensively, that was probably our best game we put together this year,” Lindsay said.

Dwenger faced a fourth down with 1:02 left and sent Garrett in for the kick. Garrett, a junior, had hit field goals from 36 and 24 yards in the first half, as Dwenger took a 6-0 lead into halftime of the defensive battle.

Dwenger’s halftime lead evaporated as Luers went up 7-6 on a 29-yard touchdown run out of the “wildcat” by Ty Hambright. Luers’ lead increased to 14-6 early in the fourth quarter when Luers’ Camdyn Childers grabbed a loose football on a failed Dwenger lateral attempt and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.

It took a phenomenal leaping catch on a pass by Dwenger’s Chip Clark – between two Luers defenders in seemingly perfect position to defend the Patrick O’Keefe pass – to record the Saints’ only touchdown with 5:02 left. A two-point pass attempt failed and Luers led 14-12.

When Hambright rushed for a first down to the Luers’ 40 with 2:30 left, it appeared the Knights could wrap things up. But Dwenger’s defense forced the fumble that Ellinger picked up.

Eventually, a game that Lindsay called the most physical of the season hinged on the poise of Dwenger’s 5-foot-10, 150-pound Garrett and the execution of Saints senior snapper Will Nelson and sophomore holder Drew Lytle.

Dwenger lists 19 coaches on its staff, including Garrett’s father, Jason, the team’s offensive coordinator. That’s a big help for this type of game-within-the-game situation. Dave Bierbaum coaches the kickers and punters, so he spends plenty of time working with Michael Garrett. Garrett, who also wrestles and runs track, gave up playing safety to concentrate solely on kicking and punting, something he began working on in the eighth grade.

While his heart rate skyrocketing, Michael Garrett knew what he had to do with his mind: Clear it.

“I just tried to keep as little going through my mind as possible,” Garrett said. “I prepare before the kick on the sidelines and then once I’m on the field, I just try to mentally block everything out.”

Dwenger coach Chris Svarczkopf gathered his field-goal unit after Luers called timeout, and tried to distribute calm.

“This is an extra point. Look at where it is, right in the middle of the field,” Svarczkopf said. “Everyone knows what your job is. Make a good, clean snap, a good hold, a good kick and we’ve got it.”

The snap was strong, the hold steady, the kick straight and true.

As Garrett learned, with his first career game-winner, it’s the best feeling in the world.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.