by ADAM GRUENEWALD
The Central football team had come up with an answer after each of Pine Island’s tying scores, but it was a Panthers touchdown and 2-point conversion with 27 seconds left which proved to be the difference in a 29-28 Section 2AA final.
Top-seeded Pine Island (9-2) advanced to the state tournament and a first-round game against Maple Lake on Friday with the home win, while Central ended their season at 3-8.
Raiders head coach Paul Henn credited his team for the way they kept competing, ending the season with three straight wins before the loss to the Panthers.
“To finish the year the way we did spoke volumes about our kids and gave us confidence moving into next year,” he said. “Our seniors provided excellent leadership to help make this happen for our young players.”
Never trailing in the back-and-forth contest until the end, Central had four separate touchdown leads, including a 28-21 advantage with 4 minutes remaining.
Starting at their own 20 after Pine Island missed a long field goal, senior Casey Clemensen caught a 15-yard pass from Isaac Hormann at the 32-yard line and later made a huge third-down sideline catch near midfield.
Successive runs by Noah Peterson, Hormann and Clemensen brought the Raiders to the 19-yard line. Peterson then broke a tackle at the 4-yard line before rushing in for the go-ahead score at 28-21.
Starting from their own 35-yard line, Pine Island came up with their game-winning drive. The Panthers converted on two fourth downs, including a 18-yard pass completion to Spencer Schultz to the Raiders’ 22 on 4th-and-7 and a 10-yard touchdown completion to Ben Warneke on 4th-and-1. Spencer Schultz then rushed to the left side for the two-point conversion.
“I give Pine Island a lot of credit for continuing to battle in that game even at times when they could have folded,” said Henn. “A play or two either way in that kind of game is going to make all of the difference and they made some when they had to. That’s not saying that we didn’t, when we needed to answer we did, it was just one of those games where you can do almost everything right yet you still come up a little short.”
Central’s last efforts were thwarted by Pine Island as Peterson returned the kickoff to the 38 and then caught a pass near midfield before time expired.
The game started promising for the Raiders as Hormann recorded two interceptions in the first quarter and Central opened up an early 7-0 lead with Hormann finding Clemensen for a 14-yard touchdown. After Pine Island scored in the second quarter, the Raiders answered with a 75-yard drive depending entirely upon the ground game. Peterson ripped off two 19-yard rushes, Hormann converted a 4th-and-inches play at the one-yard line and Clemensen rushed in for the score, putting the Raiders ahead 14-7 with 3:32 remaining.
Pine Island then tied the game up before halftime as Warneke caught a 39-yard pass to get them to the 8-yard line before Ryan McNallan punched it in.
In the second half, Hormann found Alex Eichner for a 10-yard reception to end a 55-yard scoring drive to go up 21-14. Pine Island’s Aaron Gillard then answered immediately with a 76-yard kickoff return, setting up the dramatic fourth quarter.
“I thought the execution of both our offensive and defensive game plans were excellent,” said Henn. “Throughout the playoffs we limited turnovers, created turnovers, and ran the ball very well and controlled games, even Friday’s against Pine Island. Just an excellent playoff’s to be a part of.”
Offensively, Hormann completed 5-of-11 passes for 91 yards and had 26 yards rushing.
Peterson had nearly 200 yards from scrimmage, including 154 yards on 27 rushes and 44 yards on two catches. Also, Clemensen rushed for 36 yards and had a 14-yard reception, while Storms rushed for 32 yards and Eichner had two catches for 33 yards.
“We made some adjustments starting in Belle Plaine that we were able to build off of,” said Henn. “Most importantly we started taking care of the ball which is huge in high school football. I think combining those two things really helped us but nothing was a greater impact than our big boys up front starting to control games, they made it possible for our skill kids to have the success that they did.”
Central seniors ending their high school football careers included captains Mitchell Kells, Brandon Fabel, Derrick Tellers and Casey Clemensen, along with Alex Eichner, Cody Millbrett, Jared Wickenhauser, Steeven Smith, Tyler Knickerbocker and Dillon Rolf.
“This was a tough loss for them,” said Henn. “Casey had been through this before in 2011 but most of the other guys this was really their first big game, they played well and were great leaders all season and we will miss each one of them and what they brought to the table.”
Contact Adam Gruenewald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pine Island 29, Central 28
Central 7 7 7 7 – 28
PI 0 14 7 8 – 29
C – Casey Clemensen 14 pass from Isaac Hormann (Zach Schnabel kick), 3:28
PI – Ben Warneke 10 pass from Jared Lohmeyer (Warneke kick), 8:43
C – Clemensen 1 run (Schnabel kick), 3:32
PI – Ryan McNallan 1 run (Warneke kick), :32
C – Alex Eichner 10 pass from Hormann (Schnabel kick), 2:27
PI – Aaron Gillard 76 kick return (Warneke kick), 2:09
C – Noah Peterson 19 run (Schnabel kick), 4:00
PI – Warneke 10 pass from Lohmeyer (Spencer Schultz run), :27
First Downs – Central 18, Pine Island 11
Rushes – Central 49-289, PI 27-88
Passing – Central 91, PI 179
Comp-Att-Td-Int – Central 5-11-2-0, PI 10-21-2-2
Fumbles-Lost – Central 1-0, PI 1-0
Penalties-Yards – Central 3-23, PI 1-10
Rushing – Central, Peterson 27-154, Clemensen 11-36, Hormann 6-33, Zach Storms 5-32
Passing – Central, Isaac Hormann 5-11-91 yards, two touchdowns
Receiving – Central, Peterson 2-44, Eichner 2-33, Clemensen 1-14
Interceptions – Hormann 2
Sack – Nathan Nemitz 1