Defense Plows Path of Comet Road to State
The Comets stopped the Verndale Pirates in the first possession of the game. With the offense taking over in their own end zone, 3 yards from the goal line, there was a clear defense tone that rushed over the field. Sean McGuire then set himself under center. What happened in the next 9 plays the creaking start of the seesaw battle between two of Nine Man Football's best programs.
McGuire's precision on the first quarter drive led an attack that ended with a 64 yard pass to Reggie Undseth, putting the Comets up 6-0. Verndale took the ball on the next possession and proved why they were the number 1 team in Section 4. traveling 63 yards in 6 plays to tie the game.
Field possession was a hot commodity throughout the game as both Verndale and Hillcrest pushed to convert 4th down plays inside their own territory. With under 5 minutes left in the second half, junior Nate Frustol sacked Verndale and propelled the Comets to stop the Pirates in their own territory. An 8 play, 40 yard scoring drive, was capped near the 1 minute mark by Kyler Newman's one yard run. Reggie Undseth crossed the goal line for the two point conversion to give Hillcrest a 14-6 lead going into the half.
After making a series of adjustments, the Pirates emerged from the locker room set to execute a second half push to topple the Comets. With 7 minutes left in the third quarter, Verndale capped an 8 play, 72 yard drive, with an 8 yard scoring scamper. A quick pass converted the two point conversion and the game was tied at 14.
Defense was on display through the entire game, but a few more notches of intensity turned up as the game started the 4th quarter with the score tied at 14. The Comets were able to pin Verndale down in four places, forcing a punt.
Verndale's special teams unit made it very difficult for Hillcrest to build momentum throughout the day. The 4th quarter punt set Hillcrest on their own 6 yard line. Verndale declined a roughing the punter call, opting to trust their defense to pin Hillcrest and force a turnover. Their strategy failed.
A quick pass from McGuire to Newman moved the chains and started Hillcrest on a 94 yard scoring drive, led mostly by senior Kyler Newman. The final push across the goal line left 2 minutes on the clock and only a six point deficit for Verndale to tie the game, after Hillcrest failed to convert the two pointer.
The Pirates weren't done. With the season on the line the Pirates played with unique resolve, pushing the ball past Hillcrest's defensive front, converting a fourth and ten on the drive, to end with the game on the line at Hillcrest's 11 yard line. With the Comet defense hovering around the ball, Verndale stepped to the line with 26 seconds on the clock on fourth down.
With the snap of the ball Hillcrest's defensive backs began to back pedal. The line was exhausted, having to work against one of the State's premiere offenses for four grueling quarters. Putting pressure on the Pirate quarterback didn't rattle Verndale. The receiver made his cut across the field, the pass was crisp to his hands. But the pressure from the Comet defender, with a slap over the ball, left Verndale walking to the sidelines as the Comet offense marched on the field one final time. A simple knee to the ground marked the victory for the Comets, whose trench work on defense, and resilient offensive strikes, led the Comets to victory.
Two 90+ scoring drives helped the Comets compile 389 yards on offense. Newman finished with 166 yards on 28 carries. McGuire passed for 148 yards on 8 completions, sprinting for 43 yards on six rushing attempts. Undseth hauled in 115 of McGuire's 148 yards passing.
Hillcrest plays Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran in the first round of the state football tournament. The quarter-final for State is played at St. Cloud State University on Friday, November 11 at 5pm.