He wasn’t alone.
“I’ve never felt anything like that in my life before,” said Benesh, a senior standout running back for the Western Reserve football team.
Benesh and the Roughriders found themselves in an instant classic on Saturday in a Firelands Conference showdown against St. Paul at Whitney Field in Norwalk.
But after a 40-yard field goal attempt by the Flyers on the first possession of overtime hit the bottom crossbar of the goal posts and bounced back on the field, the ‘Riders seized the momentum in a game where neither team never did.
Until the end.
Benesh scored on the fifth play of the ensuing OT drive, a three-yard TD run for a 41-35 win that set off a wild celebration on the away side of the field.
“After they missed the field goal, we erupted,” Benesh said. “We could feel the momentum from that, knowing we had a chance. We had to calm back down and focus and finish it off, but you could sense it. An amazing feeling … I had to fight back tears as I crossed the goal line.”
The win was significant on a number of levels. First, it puts Western (7-1, 5-0) alone in first place in the FC entering the final two games of the season. It also unofficially clinched a Division VI state playoff spot — the first in seven years for the ‘Riders — and likely a first-round home game.
Western was 2-8 last season under a first-year head coach in Ty Stevenson. Now, the turnaround one year later has the ‘Riders in the playoffs and in position for a league championship.
“Just so happy for this team,” Benesh said. “A lot of hard work in the weight room and coaching. Our whole team, we were all in the weight room showing up putting in the work.”
The game itself was a shootout from the very start. The two teams combined to punt just one time.
In what later turned out to be a notable turn of events, the Flyers (7-1, 4-1) used 5:56 of the clock on the opening drive. However, a 25-yard field goal attempt by Tyler Perkins was blocked by Tyler Ramage.
Four plays later, Western quarterback Jude Muenz connected with Cory Hipp on a 75-yard touchdown pass. The first of five Dalton Webb PATs put the ‘Riders up 7-0 at the 4:36 mark of the first quarter.
As it did all night, St. Paul had an answer. A 7-play, 57-yard scoring drive was capped when QB Myron Stoll found a wide open Lars Livengood on third-and-9 for an 18-yard TD pass. Perkins added the first of his five PATs to tie the game with 1:48 left in the opening quarter.
Western came right back with a heavy dose of Benesh — who unofficially has 1,708 yards and 25 TDs this season — on its next drive. He carried five times for 59 yards, the last a 17-yard TD run for a 14-7 lead with 10:37 left in the second quarter.
St. Paul came up short on downs at the Western Reserve 8-yard line with 6:43 left in the first half on its next drive.
“We had a big penalty on that drive that hurt — because we had possession first to start the game,” St. Paul coach John Livengood said. “We were driving, and to not finish it because of that penalty was a crucial moment, even though it was early in the game. Just because both offenses were moving the ball effectively.”
However, the Flyer defense forced the lone punt of the night, and got the offense the ball back with 2:57 left in the half at the St. Paul 34.
The two-minute offense for St. Paul proved effective, as Stoll completed five straight passes to Steven Deleon and Livengood for 53 yards to the Western 16. The junior QB then scrambled for yardage three straight plays — the last a 6-yard TD run with just 21 seconds left in the second quarter to tie the game back up at 14-14.
Western turned it over on downs at the St. Paul 26 to start the second half, but three plays later Carson Roe fell on a Flyer fumble to give the ‘Riders the ball right back at the St. Paul 34. Benesh scored on a 14-yard run four plays after that to put Western up 21-14 at the 4:47 mark of the third.
This time the Flyers responded with an 11-play, 72-yard scoring drive that included a fourth-and-3 conversion (Stoll to Deleon) to keep it going. On third-and-4 from the Western 20, Stoll found tight end Jesse Ruffing across the middle for a 20-yard TD pass to again tie the game (21-21) with 12 seconds left in the third.
Western needed just under four minutes to go back ahead with a 10-play, 64-yard drive that didn’t have a single negative play. Muenz ran to the right side on a 6-yard score with 8:22 left in the game, and Webb made it 28-21.
But St. Paul’s Justin Butler ripped off a 50-yard run on the ensuing play from scrimmage for the Flyers. Three plays later, Cam Caizzo scored on a 3-yard run and the Perkins PAT had tied the game at 28 just 1:19 later.
A 39-yard kick return by Hipp had the ‘Riders right back in scoring position at the St. Paul 44. It took eight plays to cover that distance, as a Benesh TD run from six yards out with 2:38 put his team up 35-28.
Refusing to kick deep to Caizzo or Butler all night, the Flyers had a 49-yard field to start on their next possession. Six plays later, the Flyers had it first and goal at the Western 3 and just over a minute left.
Caizzo was stopped short twice, but on third-and-goal, he bounced off one tackler to his right and pushed through a second defender for the TD with 24 seconds left. Perkins got the PAT through to tie the game at 35.
Western won the toss to begin overtime and elected to go on defense first.
On second-and-8 from the 18, Stoll was sacked for a five-yard loss. That proved critical two plays later when the Perkins field goal attempt just bounced off the bar and short to set up the Western game-winning OT possession.
“Giving up that sack (in overtime) was also big,” coach Livengood said. “We had done a nice job of pass protection all night, but we had a breakdown against their stunt on that particular play and it put us in a tough spot.”
Like Benesh, Stevenson was hopeful after the missed field goal.
“We felt pretty good because we had ran the ball pretty well most of the night,” he said. “So I felt like once they didn’t score that we would have a decent shot to move it down from the 20 and score.”
Benesh ran 28 times for 170 yards and 4 TDs to pace Western. Muenz was solid across the board, running 18 times for 91 yards and a TD while completing 9-of-11 passes for 160 yards and another score.
JJ Weisenberger added five catches for 79 yards, and Hipp had three catches for 79 yards.
“We punted once and they didn’t at all,” Stevenson said. “It’s hard to say how it played out that way … some games play out differently than others or how you think. I would have thought both teams would have punted more than that, but we’ll take it any way we can get it.”
Stoll had a big night for the Flyers, completing 13-of-16 pass attempts for 165 yards and 2 TD passes. He added 57 yards and a TD on 11 rush attempts.
Butler ran 14 times for 85 yards, with Caizzo adding 68 yards on 18 attempts and 2 TDs.
Deleon caught five passes for 52 yards, while Lars Livengood added four catches for 51 yards.
St. Paul, which lost for the first time in 50 games in FC play, is at New London (1-7, 1-5) on Friday.
“I’m proud of our kids, they fought and played as hard as they could,” coach Livengood said. “I’m disappointed in the outcome, but not at all in their effort. We’ve got great kids who work hard and play at a high level each week, and I’m very proud of them for that.
“But congratulations to Ty, he’s a good guy and a very good coach,” he added. “Western was the better team tonight, and Ty and his staff did a great job preparing their kids. That’s a very good team that also played hard.”
Meanwhile, Western has another huge game at home on Friday vs. Crestview (6-2, 4-1), as the Cougars have a chance to potentially force a three-way tie in the FC.
“We can’t get too happy from tonight and play poorly next week,” Benesh said. “We have to keep the tempo and go out and win another big game.”
W. Reserve 7 7 7 14 6 — 41
St. Paul 7 7 7 14 0 — 35
WR — Cory Hipp 75 pass from Jude Muenz (Dalton Webb kick)
STP — Lars Livengood 18 pass from Myron Stoll (Tyler Perkins kick)
WR — Cody Benesh 17 run (Webb kick)
STP — Stoll 6 run (Perkins kick)
WR — Benesh 14 run (Webb kick)
STP — Jesse Ruffing 20 pass from Stoll (Perkins kick)
WR — Muenz 6 run (Webb kick)
STP — Cam Caizzo 3 run (Perkins kick)
WR — Benesh 6 run (Webb kick)
STP — Caizzo 1 run (Perkins kick)
WR — Benesh 3 run (Webb kick)