BRITT — Admittedly, some of the big regular-season moments in Drew Clevenger’s time at St. Ansgar kind of blend together just because there are so many. He, his staff, and the St. Ansgar players will have a hard time forgetting Friday’s game at West Hancock, though.
In a game that saw three lead changes in the final 11 minutes, it was the Saints who came out with a touchdown with just over two minutes to play, and the defense held to secure a 21-10 victory over the Eagles in an instant classic. The win locked up a fourth straight district tile for St. Ansgar.
“I thought our kids, on both sides of the ball, played their hearts out,” Clevenger said. “Credit to their kids. Their kids played a great game, and I told (West Hancock coach) Bob (Sanger) afterwards these are the fun ones to be a part of, but it’s tough — someone has to lose.”
It was clutch play after clutch play for both sides all the way down to the final minute. But a must-score drive with the clock winding down in the fourth proved to be St. Ansgar’s marquee moment of its season so far.
After playing to an 8-8 tie through one half, West Hancock’s defense made one of its biggest stop of the season late in the third quarter to hold St. Ansgar out of the end zone on fourth-and-1 at the 1. The Eagles followed that up with a 99-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 71-yard run by MaCoy Yeakel and capped off with a four-yard score from Tate Hagen with 23 seconds to play in the third.
This was just the start of the craziness that was the final 12-plus minutes of the game.
St. Ansgar answered on its next drive with a 4-yard touchdown run by Kramer, and the extra point by Jack Mendoza gave the Saints a 15-14 lead.
Not to be outdone, West Hancock grabbed the lead with 5:30 to go on a 16-yard pass from Chase Eisenman to Hagen on a fourth-and-16 in what seemed to be a must-score moment for them as well.
But this St. Ansgar team wasn’t about to go down as it had its answer the ensuing drive.
“It’s what we do in practice with conditioning,” Kramer said. “We don’t get tired and that’s how we finish through.”
Trailing 25-20 with 5:30 to play, St. Ansgar marched methodically down the field, and a 35-yard pass from Collin Kramer to Nicholas Bork provided the spark. Sophomore Jack Sievert dived in a few plays later for the go-ahead score with 2:11 to play.
“We knew they were kind of getting tired so we just had stick with every play and keep our blocks held, and then get a touchdown,” Kramer said.
But did it leave too much on the clock for West Hancock, which moved the ball with relative ease for much of the second half?
West Hancock had one last chance with the ball after the St. Ansgar score, but a pass on 4th down from the Saints’ 38 fell incomplete and all that was left was the celebration.
“It’s all the hard work the seniors put in for four years and all the guys coming up look up to them, they see what to strive for,” Sievert said.
West Hancock topped St. Ansgar in total yardage for the game 366-356. Yeakel led all players with 232 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Wet Hancock (5-3, 5-1) has a crucial game at Nashua-Plainfield next Friday. Both teams are tied at 5-1 in district play.
“I really like our kids,” Sanger said. “I really like the way we play, I like our physicalness and I just like everything about it. We just have to figure out how to put it together for the best. We’ve changed a lot from the first two games of the season and we’re going the right way.”
For St. Ansgar, which hosts Rockford next week, it hopes this win is the start of something special in the postseason. Celebrating another district title comes first.
“Winning is hard, and our kids, they appreciate the moment and they don’t take it for granted,” Clevenger said. “It means a lot. It’s a big feather in their hat for the seniors and at the same time we want to finish the regular season strong, get into playoffs, and we’re not satisfied. We want to keep advancing and anything can happen.”