HASTINGS, Neb. — The West outperformed the East squad in the big plays department during the 35th annual Sertoma 8-Man Football Classic Saturday.
But it might have been quickly recovering from what loomed to be the biggest play of the game that sealed the West’s 47-22 victory.
After Pawnee City’s Garrett Borcher stripped Creighton’s Ryan Mitteis on a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line and returned the ball 99 yards to pull the East within 27-22 with 10:55 left, the West quickly responded.
It scored three times in a span of 5:35 to extend its winning streak to five games and cut the East’s series lead to 19-16 at Hastings College’s Lloyd Wilson Field.
West head coach Andy Schwarz of South Loup credited his team for its quick recovery after the stunning return by Borcher, the East’s defensive most valuable player. Mitteis kept trying to extend across the goal line before Borcher suddenly started running the other way with the ball.
He jogged into the opposite end zone with no one in pursuit, and the officials huddled for several seconds before signalling touchdown.
“The guys did a good job,” Schwarz said. “That’s all you can do. It’s a freak play. It doesn’t ever happen. But it did, and all you can do is come back hard and play the next series.”
West offensive MVP Mitteis did convert on a 1-yard sneak on the West’s next possession to push the lead up to 33-22. He finished with 62 yards on 17 carries with two TDs and was 4-for-6 passing for 50 yards.
Then Garden County linebacker Jordan Russell returned an interception 25 yards to put the West up 40-22 with 3:03 remaining.
“We were a little nervous (after the fumble return),” said West linebacker Guy Fenske of Sargent. “We knew we had to stop them, then we got that big play on defense on the series after that. We kind of got the momentum back.”
Loomis’ Kalen Anderson scored his second touchdown of the game on a 24-yard run to cap off the scoring with 1:34 left.
“We recovered pretty good,” West running back Jed Fenske of Sargent said. “Coach told us to get back and get after it, so we came back and stuck it to them.”
The East couldn’t keep the momentum after rallying from 21-0 down to get within five points.
“I think they just wanted it a little more,” East linebacker Drew Ott said. “They had more hustle and effort out there.
“I think we all thought we were going to come back and win it.”
But the East simply couldn’t overcome the number of big plays the West generated.
The game was still scoreless midway through the second quarter — igniting memories of last year’s 7-0 defensive battle — when the West finally showed its explosiveness.
Anderson returned a punt 74 yards to give the West a 6-0 lead with 5:16 left in the half. He had to retreat five yards to pick up the ball after muffing the punt, but then he avoided a couple of tackles and danced his way down the right sideline.
The West defense stopped the East on fourth down on the West’s 14-yard line with 1:32 left. But the West went the wrong way, getting back up to the 4 after drawing holding and personal foul penalties on the same play.
But from deep in the end zone, Pleasanton quarterback Colin Janitscheck connected with O’Neill St. Mary’s Tait Sibbel on a 66-yard pass.
After Sibbel soared for a 19-yard reception on the 1-yard line, Mitteis scored the first of his 1-yard TDs with 18 seconds left to make it 12-0.
The West wasn’t done.
On the next play, West defensive MVP Sibbel picked off Troy McCuiston on a throwback pass and returned it 34 yards to the 15, setting up a 32-yard field goal by Alma’s Kory Kindler as the first half expired.
Kindler later had a 62-yard field goal try fall short in the front of the end zone.
“We took care of the ball well,” Guy Fenske said. “We only had two turnovers and they had four.”
The West quickly extended its lead to 21-0 in the third quarter. Janitscheck, who was 9-for-13 for 231 yards, hit Jed Fenske in stride on a crossing pattern 15 yards downfield. He slipped a pair of tackles and turned the play into an 81-yard score.
“That was a good throw,” said Jed Fenske, who had six catches for 138 yards and added 32 yards rushing. “We’ve been practicing that all week, so it worked out well.
“I think our speed really killed them the whole game. We threw in some spread offense where we could utilize our speed, and that helped a lot.”
Schwarz knew the West would have to execute plays like that to have a chance to win.
“Coming in, we thought we needed the big play because I didn’t know if size-wise we’d be able to move it down the field,” he said. “We were kind of hoping to get into space and let our speed guys go to work. That’s kind of what happened.”
The East finally got going on offense after only managing five first downs and 109 yards of total offense in the first half.
Ott, who came in as a short-yardage quarterback several times in the game, bullied the ball into the end zone for a 1-yard score with 6:48 left in the third. He then hit Kellen Unvert with a jump-stop pass on the conversion to cut the lead to 21-8.
“It’s fun to get the ball and just run as hard as I can before I go back to defense,” said Ott, who rushed four times for 13 yards.
After a successful onside kick, the East drove and got a 4-yard score from Borcher to move within 21-14 with 3:35 left in the third.
The West answered with a 4-yard run by Jed Fenske to take a 27-22 lead, then Sibbel recovered a fumble on the East 23-yard line to set up the possession that ended with Borcher’s fumble return.
Even though wins and losses are fairly meaningless in all-star contests, Schwarz was glad the West came away with the victory.
“I haven’t been nervous like this in a long time,” he said. “The way these guys performed was unbelievable. It was a lot of fun.”
Quarterback Blake Krings of Humphrey St. Francis was named the East’s offensive MVP. He rushed for 74 yards on 10 carries and threw the East’s only completion for 31 yards.
West..................0 15 12 20—47
East...................0 0 14 8—22
W: Kalen Anderson 74 punt return (kick failed)
W: Ryan Mitteis 1 run (pass failed)
W: Kory Kindler 32 field goal
W: Jed Fenske 81 pass from Colin Janitscheck (kick failed)
E: Drew Ott 1 run (Kellen Unvert pass from Ott)
E: Garrett Borcher 4 run (pass failed)
W: Fenske 4 run (kick failed)
E: Borcher 99 fumble return (Ott run)
W: Mitteis 1 run (pass failed)
W: Jordan Russell 25 interception return (Kindler kick)
W: Anderson 24 run (Kindler kick)
First downs 16 14
Rushes-yards 39-139 54-225
Comp-Att-Int 13-19-0 1-8-3
Passing yards 281 31
Punts-Avg. 2-39.5 4-39.0
Punt returns 2-77 1-20
Kickoff returns 0-0 3-65
Fumbles-lost 4-2 3-1
Penalties-yards 4-15 7-36
RUSHING—West, Ryan Mitteis (Creighton) 17-62, Jed Fenske (Sargent) 9-32, Kalen Anderson (Loomis) 2-29, Tait Sibbel (O’Neill St. Mary’s) 1-11, Dylon Leslia (Spalding/Spalding Academy) 2-4, Colihn Janitscheck (Pleasanton) 8-1. East, Blake Krings (Humphrey St. Francis) 10-74, Garrett Borcher (Pawnee City) 14-62, Kameron Kaelin (Nebraska Christian) 12-43, Troy McQuiston (Newman Grove) 9-31, Drew Ott (Giltner) 4-13, Trent Mastny (Howells) 3-12, Kellen Unvert (Freeman) 1-4, TEAM 1-(minus 14).
PASSING—West, Colin Janitscheck (Pleasanton) 9-13-0 231, Ryan Mitteis (Creighton) 4-6-0 50. East, Blake Krings (Humphrey St. Francis) 1-6-2 31, Garrett Borcher (Pawnee City) 0-1-0 0, Troy McCuiston (Newman Grove) 0-1-1 0.
RECEIVING—West, Jed Fenske (Sargent) 6-138, Tait Sibbel (O’Neill St. Mary’s) 2-85, Kalen Anderson (Loomis) 2-38, Jordan Russell (Garden County) 1-23, Dillan Line (S-E-M) 1-8, Dylon Leslie (Spalding/Spalding Academy) 1-(minus 1). East, Taylor Roan (Humphrey) 1-31.