Area Football: Hillcrest upsets top-seeded Pirates
Hillcrest 20, Verndale 14 Key: Hillcrest stopped Verndale on three straight pass plays from their own 5 Overall: V 10-1, H 10-1 Next: Hillcrest vs. Section 2 winner MACCRAY or Cleveland in Nine-Man State Quarterfinal at St. Cloud State University...
Hillcrest 20, Verndale 14
Key: Hillcrest stopped Verndale on three straight pass plays from their own 5
Overall: V 10-1, H 10-1
Next: Hillcrest vs. Section 2 winner MACCRAY or Cleveland in Nine-Man State Quarterfinal at St. Cloud State University 5 p.m. Friday
It's all any team can ask for and the top-seeded Verndale Pirates gave themselves a great chance to win the Section 4, Nine-Man championship Friday at the Fargodome.
Trailing 20-14 with the ball at their own 20, Verndale marched 75 yards in 1:29 to set up second down and four at the Hillcrest Lutheran Academy Comets five with 30 seconds left. The second-down pass fell incomplete.
Third down: An out pass to Luke Weniger fell wide of the target.
Fourth down, 23.5 seconds left in their season, Pirates quarterback Mack Jones went back to Weniger and for the second-straight play the pass missed the mark and the Pirates season concluded with the 20-14 loss in the section final.
"We did a good job of moving it down there," said Verndale head coach Mike Mahlen. "We just needed to finish. With the time we had left and only one time out, we did a super job getting it down the field. It gave us a chance to win the game. At least a chance to score. It was a great job of doing that."
Hillcrest head coach Evan Newman was in shock with how the game ended.
"How did we hold them at the end? I have no idea," he said. "I just can't even say enough about my boys. It's overwhelming because I did not want to be the mistake that kept them between state. I just wanted to get out of the way and let them be athletes.
"I need to start exercising. My blood pressure."
Hillcrest grabbed the late lead when senior running back Kyler Newman broke the end zone from 2 yards out with 5:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. Newman, who separated his shoulder earlier in the first half, led the Comets' offensive attack with 174 yards on 28 carries.
"My son's shoulder popped out in the first quarter," said Evan Newman. "He's never hurt his shoulder before. Dislocated it and he popped it back in. He played the whole game. He dislocated it and it was out and I got up to him and you could see it pop back in. Then he came out for one play and went back him. How many kids would do that? I wouldn't. I would be over on the sidelines crying like a baby."
Hillcrest finished with 401 yards of offense. Quarterback Sean McGuire was 8-of-21 passing for 147 yards. Reggie Undseth caught five passes for 114 yards.
The Pirates forced the tie by taking the opening drive of the second half 72 yards on 11 plays. The drive was kept alive thanks to a 17-yard pass play from Jones to Mac Schluttner on third and three. Weniger finished the drive with a 2-yard run.
"We just made a few adjustments with our blocking coming out of the halftime," said Mahlen. "We changed a few things with our blocking."
Penalties hampered Verndale's offense the rest of the second half until the final drive. Jones finished 14-of-36 passing for 218 yards. Weniger caught seven passes for 106 yards and Schluttner posted five receptions for 94 yards.
"The problem was Jones was coming off a concussion so I couldn't run him like I wanted to," said Mahlen. "Normally, we would be running Jones out of that quarterback spot. We didn't do that because of his concussion. We ran him some."
After Verndale's opening drive of the game stalled at the Hillcrest 3, the Comets orchestrated a nine-play, 97-yard drive that was capped off with a 64-yard strike from McGuire to Undseth for a 6-0 advantage.
Six plays later Verndale answered when Jones found Schluttner behind the Comet secondary for a 38-yard scoring strike to tie the contest 6-6.
Hillcrest secured the first-half lead with an eight-play, 40-yard drive. Newman's 2-yard run followed by an Undseth 2-point conversion handed the Comets a 14-6 halftime lead.
Verndale didn't go quietly into the break as Schluttner returned the ensuing kickoff to the Pirate 48. A 31-yard pass from Jones to Weniger gave Verndale the ball at the Hillcrest 21 with 53.8 seconds left. Four straight incomplete passes ended the threat.
"That was such an even game," Evan Newman said. "Anybody could have won that game. We just manned up. I told the guys if we are going to win this game we need to run on them. I figured they would get tired and they did."
The Comets used a balanced attack in the opening half as it rushed for 101 yards and Mcguire was 4-of-10 for 105 yards passing.
"They were getting on the edge and we just weren't making the plays on the edge," said Mahlen, who finishes the season tied with Brainerd head coach Ron Stolski as Minnesota's all-time winningest coach with 371 career wins.
"Plus, later in the game, we let them go 98 yards instead of stuffing them back deep in their territory. If we make them punt there we probably end up scoring. It was the worst possible scenario."
Hillcrest 0 14 0 6-20
Verndale 0 6 8 0-14
H-Reggie Undseth 64 pass from Sean McGuire (kick blocked) 10:02
V-Mac Schluttner 38 pass from Mack Jones (run failed) 7:27
H-Kyler Newman 2 run (Undseth run) 1:06
V-Luke Weniger 8 run (Mac Schluttner pass from Mack Jones) 7:12
H-Kyler Newman 2 run (run failed) 5:08
Rushes-yards: V 25-113, H 54-254
Pass comp-att-int-yds: V 14-36-0-218, H 8-21-147
Total offense: V 61-331, H 66-401
Rushing: V-Luke Weniger 17-70, Mack Jones 6-34, Mac Schluttner 1-5, Taylor Wills 1-4; H-Kyler Newman 28-174, Reggie Undseth 10-35, Sean McGuire 7-45
Passing: V-Jones 14-36-218; H-McGuire 8-21-147
Receiving: V-Weniger 7-106, Schluttner 5-94, Willis 1-13, Jordan Brownlow 1-5; H-Undseth 5-114, Newman 3-33