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28-0? No problem! Hastings rallies to defeat Stillwater

Tony Lodermeier picks up Mike Junker after Junker scored on a two-point conversion to cap off an improbable comeback for the Hastings Raiders in Stillwater on Friday. Hastings trailed 28-0 before coming back to tie the game and send it into overtime. In overtime, Hastings won 35-34. Also pictured for the Raiders is Jacob Cooper. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Wasvick)

Every fall, the Hastings boys soccer team loans the football team someone with a good strong leg. Placekickers are relatively hard to come by, but the soccer team has its fair share of strong legs, and they spread out the wealth.

This year, Jonah Harrington got the job.

He probably had no idea what he was in for.

On Friday night, the Hastings Raiders had clawed back from trailing 28-0 to tie the Stillwater Ponies in overtime, 34-34. All Harrington had to do was make the extra point, and Hastings would score a dramatic upset in incredible fashion.

It was such a high-stress situation that quarterback Brandon McCarthy grabbed Harrington and just told him to relax.

“I told him, ‘Nice and calm, right through the uprights,’” McCarthy said.

While McCarthy may have prompted Harrington to calm down, he probably could have used the same advice.

“I was so nervous,” McCarthy said. “I couldn’t even watch it.

“I was scared. I had turned around and was looking at the ground. I turned around right before the ball was snapped. I saw it go right through the uprights.”

Harrington’s kick did exactly that – it went through the uprights, and Hastings won, 35-34.

“As soon as Jonah kicked it, he didn’t even wait to see if it went through,” coach Dana Strain said. “He sprinted toward the other end of the field, and all the kids ended up chasing after him.

“We’ll never forget this one. The kids won’t, either. That’s the neatest thing – they’ll always have a memory of this one. They’ll never forget doing it.”

What ended on such a high note began in an entirely different fashion.

Hastings moved the ball all over the field against the Ponies in the first half, but they trailed 21-0.

Stillwater had come into the game with a perfect 3-0 record (including a win over Cretin-Derham Hall, who had just beat Hastings 56-6). The previous week, their game against Cretin was broadcast nationally on ESPN. Early on, at least on the scoreboard, they looked to have this one in control.

Hastings, though, saw it differently.

“We actually played pretty well offensively,” Strain said. “Even to start the game, our offense was operating efficiently and pretty well.”

Hastings had a long drive that stalled at the Stillwater 15 yard line, and then a pass in the end zone at the end of a nice drive in the first half fell incomplete.

Meanwhile, the Stillwater offense was having success moving the ball against Hastings, and that’s what Strain was most concerned about.

“We just didn’t play well defensively to start the game,” he said. “That’s what caused our issue.”

Stillwater had two 80-yard drives and one 54-yard drive that ended in touchdowns, giving them that 21-0 lead heading into halftime.

Strain’s halftime speech was anything but desperate in tone, McCarthy said.

“He was still giving us hope, saying we just need to play our football and try our hardest and we could get right back out there and win,” he said.

That message, though, took a real beating when the Ponies scored again with 8:12 to play in the third quarter to make the score 28-0. That’s when everything started to change, though. Hastings went on a seven-play 86-yard drive that was capped off by a five-yard touchdown run by McCarthy. There was 2:36 to play in the third quarter when McCarthy scored. Harrington’s extra point was no good, making the score 28-6.

Early in the fourth quarter, Hastings got the ball back after the defense made another big stop, and it didn’t take the Raiders long to score. On 2nd and 10, McCarthy hit Drew Pottinger for an 84-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion attempt failed, making the score 28-12. The quick touchdown made the big comeback possible.

“All of a sudden, it was a two-score game,” Strain said. “It was such a fast one – we didn’t drain a lot of clock on a big drive. That was the critical one. If we would have had to drive 84 yards, it would have eaten up so much clock. To get a quick strike like that, it was a real turning point.”

The Hastings defense again stopped Stillwater and the ball came back to the offense at the 20 yard line. Hastings scored on a seven-play 80-yard drive, capped off by a two-yard run into the end zone by McCarthy. Ross Dylla scored on the two-point conversion to make the score 28-20.

Stillwater got the ball back, and yet again the Hastings defense made a big stop. The Ponies punted the ball and it was downed at the Hastings one-yard line. If the Raiders wanted to tie the game, they’d have to go 99 yards in three minutes with one timeout.

No problem!

Off they went, converting on key third and fourth downs along the way. Sixteen plays later they had hit paydirt, with Zach Wiese catching a five-yard touchdown pass from McCarthy on fourth down with three seconds to play.

“It was a very, very impressive drive,” Strain said. “One of the best ones I’ve ever seen. We just watched the guys execute virtually flawlessly. It was a really cool thing to watch.”

Mike Junker scored the game-tying two-point conversion on a reverse. The game was headed to overtime, 28-28.

“We just kept plugging away,” Strain said. “That’s the best thing the kids did. They didn’t quit. Pretty soon, we got a couple things that went our way, and we made a couple things go our way. The next thing you know, you’re back in it.”

In overtime, Stillwater got the ball first and they scored a touchdown. The Ponies went for a two-point conversion but that run failed.

McCarthy then scored on a six-yard touchdown run for Hastings in overtime, setting up Harrington’s big opportunity.

Strain said that for a split second after Harrington’s kick went through the uprights, he froze.

“You have to stand there and make sure you know what just happened,” he said with a laugh.

Hastings is now 2-2 on the season – a far cry from being 1-3.

“You are back to .500 and feeling a lot better than if you are 1-3 going into the second half of the season,” Strain said. “It was a big win, and one of the best I’ve ever been a part of.”

McCarthy led the charge for the Raiders and his stunning stats from the night helped earn him Athlete of the Week honors in the St. Paul Pioneer Press this week. He had 30 carries for 188 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 14 of 38 pass attempts for 298 yards and two touchdowns.

He credited the offensive line with another strong game, making all those yards possible.

“They don’t get much credit,” he said. “We had big open lanes and they gave me time in the pocket to throw. Everyone on the team did all the little things right.”

His receivers had strong nights, too. Pottinger finished with two catches, 95 yards and the touchdown.

Dylla had three catches for 92 yards and Wiese had six grabs for 87 yards. Also recording catches were Shane Anderson, Junker and Jacob Cooper.

Anderson had seven carries for 31 yards. Also recording carries were Dylla, Daryale Harris, Wiese, Brent Latuff and Junker.

Junker played defense, too, starting the game in the secondary.

Pottinger had an interception for the Raiders.

Vs White Bear Lake

Hastings travels to White Bear Lake on Friday night to face the Bears. They are 1-3 on the season so far.

They lost to East Ridge in the season opener, 48-15. They lost to Woodbury, 31-29, and lost to Park, 33-27.

Last week they beat Forest lake, 50-0.

“They’re a very up-tempo team,” Strain said. “They go no huddle and fast-paced.”

White Bear’s offense ranks third in the league in yards gained. They are led by quarterback Trey Anderson, who has completed 57 of 97 passes so far this year for 553 yards and nine touchdowns.

On the ground they are led by Anderson, who has 83 carries for 467 yards and five touchdowns.