Red Cloud made one more play than Heartland Lutheran Friday afternoon.
The Warriors blocked a PAT kick with 28 seconds remaining to preserve a 26-24 win over the six-man No. 7-rated Red Hornets.
Heartland Lutheran had trailed 26-12 with 6:03 remaining after Berrick Hersh broke off a 59-yard run for his third touchdown of the second half.
The Red Hornets (5-2) came close to tying things up, but a theme of the teams struggling on PATs (a combined 1-for-8 on kicks, runs and passes) continued.
The only converted PAT was a kick by Corbin Hoit after Hersh’s fourth-quarter touchdown.
“In six-man football, it’s almost impossible to kick it,” Red Hornets coach Tim Leech said. “There’s just not enough room. That edge is so short. I told our kicker (Domnick Ewoldt) when we went out there that I loved him and I supported him either way. He had nothing to fear, just put his leg into it. He did. They just made a play and got in front of it.”
Quarterback Justus Bader led the Red Hornets to touchdowns on their final two possessions, including running to convert a pair of fourth downs.
Bader’s 30-yard touchdown run brought the Red Hornets within 26-18 with 4:46 to go after a PAT run failed.
After the defense got a three-and-out, Bader led an 8-play, 53-yard drive. He capped it off with a 3-yard strike to Quinston Larsen on the left side of the end zone, Larsen’s second touchdown reception against his former team.
Bader was held by Red Cloud (5-2) to a 6-for-24 day passing for 99 yards. He had an interception in the end zone near the end of the first half.
But he had much more success with his legs, gaining 150 yards on 22 carries. However, that wasn’t ideal, Leech said.
“Justus came into this one pretty hurt and couldn’t really move around a whole lot,” he said. “So asking him to run was asking a lot.
“But he put that team on his back there in the fourth quarter and did what it took. He found Quinston and ran the play beautifully.
“We made a heck of a run at it. It just comes down to an extra point.”
Hersh finished with 152 yards rushing on 21 carries for Red Cloud, which lost freshman Brooks Armstrong to a significant looking leg injury midway through the second quarter. The game was delayed nearly 30 minutes while Armstrong was being treated on the field.
As expected in a two-point game, Leech said there were several plays that the Red Hornets wish they could have back.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times in that game,” he said. “But you can’t really take anything away from Red Cloud. They had a good game plan and are a well-coached, physical team.
“But I’m not worried. These kids will bounce back. That’s what they’ve done all year. They’re a tight-knit group, a special group, and we will be back and ready for Silver Lake.”
Heartland Lutheran had hoped to officially clinch its first ever playoff berth with a win over Red Cloud. Now it will try to refocus for that road game at Silver Lake to close out the regular season.
“We need to stick together and continue to love each other,” Leech said. “We want to remember that your identity is in Christ, not this game, and we’ll be fine. This team is resilient because their identity isn’t in this game. We’ll still play into the playoffs and we’ll come back.
“I just give Red Cloud a lot of credit. That’s two years in a row that it has quite literally come down to the last play of the game.”