HARRISBURG — Two weeks ago Brookings and Harrisburg went toe-to-toe for four straight quarters before the Bobcats finally pulled out a 21-20 overtime win. The parity of that game was no fluke when the two faced each other in the opening round of the 11AA playoffs Thursday night. In fact, it came within about a foot of an overtime repeat performance.
Harrisburg scored with under a minute to play and looked to seal the win on a reverse to Paul Paul, who scampered in from 11 yards out to give the Tigers a 20-17 lead. It was Paul’s only run of the night, and it clearly caught Brookings by surprise as Paul easily crossed the goal line.
The Harrisburg crowd erupted as the win and a trip to the semifinals was seemingly in hand. Brookings hadn’t done much offensively all game, but with 46 remaining after the Paul score, Brookings marched down the field and had an opportunity with four seconds remaining.
But Nick Perry’s 42-yard field goal fell just shy of the cross bar as time expired. This time, the Harrisburg faithful really had a chance to get loud.
“Yea, I thought it was good,” Harrisburg coach Brandon White said of Perry’s field goal attempt. “It looked dead-on, but then it started to fade a little bit.”
Paul’s game-winning run was one that seemed to have everyone in shock. It was the only time his number was even called on the night, and the senior seemed incredibly calm after the game.
“I knew my teammates would block for me,” Paul said of the play that came immediately out of Harrisburg timeout with 55 seconds play. “But it was open. I was really nervous, but it was open.”
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It’s the third time the Tigers have used the trick play this season, resulting in its third touchdown. Harrisburg used at Brandon Valley for its only score of the game, and they also used it to defeat Douglas in overtime. It nearly wasn’t used against Brookings, but White got a whisper from his offensive line during the timeout, and Tigers’ play-caller went with the play.
“We’ve obviously had some success with it, but it was a gutsy call,” White said. “We’ve had three really good practices heading into tonight, and yea, I think we can make a run at it.”
Harrisburg entered its regular season finale last week against Yankton on a three-game winning streak. But the Tigers’ offense sputtered in that game as it was shutout 28-0. But against Brookings, running back Curstin Conway made sure the Tigers didn’t have a slow start as the junior broke free and ran 65 yards to the Brookings nine-yard line early in the second half, setting up a five-yard score two plays later by Dylan Tams.
Up until Conway’s run, the longest play from scrimmage by either team was just seven yards. Conway finished the night with 76 yards on just three carries. Tams led Harrisburg with 90 yards on the ground.
Harrisburg limited Brookings to just 146 total yards of offense until late in the game. The Bobcats set up the late game heroics for Paul when they finally got their offense moving. With 7:19 to play, Brookings went 67 yards on six plays to take its first lead of the game with just over four minutes to play when quarterback Devin Coughlin scored to make it 17-13.
At halftime, the two teams had combined for just 194 yards, nine points and 10 first downs. Although Harrisburg led just 6-3 at the time, they were dominating the defensive side of the ball. Brookings managed just 86 yards and was in Harrisburg territory just twice, which included a 23-yard field goal by Perry.
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Gerald Maxwell led the Bobcats with 110 yards on 19 carries.
“That was as good a defensive effort as we’ve had all year,” White said. “We really keyed on Maxwell. He’s the best back in the state in my opinion, and we did a good job on him.”