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Ben Smith

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Spotlight showed the best of Saints

– Always it comes to this, on one end of things. There’s a scoreboard that’s too light and a roar from across the way and, somewhere, very soon, a kid standing alone on the carpet, helmet in one hand and busted heart in the other.

The scoreboard that’s too light read Columbus East 28, Bishop Dwenger 27, this time around. And the kid’s name, this time, was Gus Schrader, who had everything and nothing to cry about even as his face contorts and his eyes glisten.

In the biggest game of his life Saturday night, he caught seven passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns, and if that was wondrous enough, here is more: He’s a former two-way player who’d caught just seven passes all season until Saturday. It’s the sort of thing you see a lot on the last weekend of November in Lucas Oil Stadium, where players make plays you expect will make plays, and so do people you don’t expect.

Everyone says you’ve got to rise to the occasion, on nights like this. But the rest of it is the occasion is designed to be risen to.

So forget that the Saints came up short for the fourth time since 2002. Remember instead the 21-0 deficit they made disappear. Remember instead the game of Gus Schrader’s life. Remember the strip and recovery Zach Archer made on the goal line that kept Columbus East’s Markell Jones out of the end zone, and how it came down, in the end, to an offensive lineman all but shedding his blood for one last first down.

Not that anyone should be surprised by all of that, mind you.

“That’s the effort they give all the time,” said Dwenger coach Chris Svarczkopf – who left it all out there, too, running an exquisite fake punt to keep one drive going and pulling off a fake sweep/end-around/flea flicker to keep another going, before missing a two-point conversion after Dwenger took the lead in the fourth quarter.

“Yeah, we took some chances,” Svarczkopf went on. “But all those calls in the second half were because we came to win.”

You can, and people will, debate the wisdom of some of those rolls of the dice, but you can’t debate Svarczkopf’s essential point, which is that it’s a game, a night, for rolling the dice.

And that’s true for not only the Mike Fiacables and the Ryan Watercutters and the Gabe Espinozas, but for the Gus Schraders and Zach Archers and all the others without whose lack of give-up this night would never have happened.

“They were more focusing on Gabe and Ryan, so I was open,” is how Schrader put it. “So (Fiacable) just threw it to me today.”

That’s how it works. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Remember that aforementioned offensive lineman?

His name is Nathan Niese, and on that aforementioned play – third-and-14, the clock rapidly draining of seconds – he scooped up Fiacable’s fumble and went looking for a fresh set of downs.

Columbus East tacklers collected on him like barnacles, as he churned forward. Eventually, unbelievably, he made it to within inches of the first down – and then the ball popped loose, and that was that.

“Nathan Niese is a rugby player, and you could see the rugby in him,” Svarczkopf said.

Something else, too.

When you caught up with him he was marching eyes-front toward one end zone, wearing an expression that could cleave granite.

But then he stopped, and his expression softened.

“I think I would have got it,” he said of the play. “It’s unfortunate …”

And then: “I owed my best to all these players. I love ’em all.”

One point short or not.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.