Same place. Same two players. Different outcome.

In back-to-back Taco Shacks, Ez Guenther of the Knights and Colin Page of the Trojans faced off to decide the game

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Charlie Partheymuller

DEFENSE WINS TACO SHACKS. After a McCallum offsides call on a missed field goal forced the Trojans into going for it on fourth and two, the McCallum defense made the game-saving stop at the goal line. After senior lineman Johan Holmes made the initial hit, senior safety Ez Guenther and senior linebacker Tino Rodriguez made sure the play would go no farther than the line of scrimmage. “I could see that they were in wildcat formation, and their best player was going to get the ball, and it was all going to come down to who wanted it more,” Guenther said. The play thwarted the Trojans’ chance at a game-winning score. The Knights then proceeded to trudge 70 yards towards the Anderson end zone and run out the clock. “This photo just shows we wanted the Taco Shack Bowl more,” Guenther said.

Thomas Melina Raab, sports editor

In one year’s time, everything can change.

For Ez Guenther and the Knights football team, one year was the difference between a disappointing loss and the biggest win of their lives. 

In last year’s low-scoring affair, a 43-yard TD run by Anderson’s star running back Colin Page was the deciding touchdown that propelled the Trojans to a 14-7 victory. The touchdown run was capped off when Page eluded the full-effort dive of safety Ez Guenther at the 3-yard line.

“All I was trying to do was keep him from getting into the end zone with every ounce of energy I had, and it just didn’t work out,” he said about the missed opportunity. 

Despite Ez Gunther’s full lay out for a touchdown-saving tackle, Anderson running back Colin Page was able to finish this 43-yard run by finding the end zone for the first score of the game. (Dave Winter)

After Page’s score, the Knights regained their footing and shut the Trojans out for the remainder of the game, but the score held, and the Trojans took home the Taco Shack trophy for the second straight year.

This year’s Taco Shack game was one of the, if not the, most coveted games any of the 31 seniors on the Knights squad had ever played in. The hype surrounding the game had built to new levels before the first snap of the game. Full stands, trash talk between players and fans alike, and years of preparation by both sides had the atmosphere in House Park completely electric.

Senior lineman Johan Holmes said the previous year might have been a hidden blessing. “I think the loss kind of fed into our morale. It definitely gave us a lot of energy going into this year’s game.”

Close throughout, the game came down to a decisive play in the game’s final minutes: fourth down, Mac clinging to a one-point lead with the ball inside the Knight 5-yard line. The crucial play was unfolding in the same spot on the field where Guenther made his desperate dive to prevent Page from scoring the deciding touchdown the year before. 

Page was poised to be the Taco Shack hero again. He lined up in a wildcat formation to receive the snap. Just moments before he had been helped off the field after what looked like a game-ending, season-threatening injury. But now he was back in the game, eyeing the south end zone where he would score the winning touchdown, just as he had the year before. 

But Ez and the Knights defense wanted their own shining Taco Shack moment. As varsity players, they had never beaten Anderson before. It was their last chance. And four years of frustration and hope all came down to this decisive play. 

Do or die. Win or lose.

So they decided to give it everything they had left.

Holmes was down in his three point stance across from the ball when the quarterback called for the snap. “I just knew we needed to stop them.”

The blitz came hard toward the spot where everyone knew where the ball was going. Page got the direct snap and rushed towards the goal line. A wall of black jerseys met him. Guenther, of course, was one of those jerseys, in the middle of the pile, to make the tackle and seal the Knights’ victory. 

Senior lineman Johan Holmes lets out a primal scream of celebration after the Knights edged the Trojans, 14-13, in the 2021 Taco Shack Bowl. (Dave Winter)

The McCallum sideline erupted. Senior utility man Max Pipkin was anxiously watching the play from the 50-yard line.

“When the ref blew the whistle, there was a little bit of a pause, we weren’t sure if that really just happened,” he said. “When it set in, everything just went crazy, we were running around, high-fiving the student section. It was just super hype.”

Guenther wasn’t quite as excited about the win.

“As a team we all did so much better because we stayed calm and pushed through until the end and ended up executing at the end of the game,” he said. “But if you look back at the film, there’s still so many mistakes that everyone made. We redeemed ourselves, but we didn’t get that sweet, sweet victory we were looking for because there’s still so much more work to be done.”

So much for celebration.

“We definitely didn’t redeem ourselves,” Holmes said. “Anderson isn’t that good, and there are a lot of better teams we’re going to play this season.” 

Guenther and the Knights aren’t content with one win, no matter how desperately they wanted it. 

They have the rest of the season to improve on the mistakes they made against Anderson, and by the end of the season, they hope that the Taco Shack win was the first chapter in a glorious season and not a bright moment in an otherwise dark Knight sky.