The common saying is that defense wins championships. While the Hastings football team is still a ways away from playing for said championship, their defense stepped up when they were needed most to help Hastings win their first-round section playoff game. The Raiders beat the Henry Sibley Warriors in West St. Paul Tuesday, Oct. 24, 16-14 in a game that came down to the last 30 seconds and a goal-line stand. With the win, Hastings advances to the section 3-5A semifinals and travel to Apple Valley on Saturday.
Henry Sibley received the ball to open the game and drove steadily down the field, a 90-yard drive that was capped by an 18-yard touchdown pass that gave the Warriors a 7-0 lead with five minutes and 36 seconds left in the first quarter. After Hastings was forced to punt, Henry Sibley drove down again but the Raiders' defense was able to force a turnover, one of their two for the game. Head coach Dana Strain said that after that first drive, his defense was able to settle in but it took longer for the offense.
"Throughout the night they (Henry Sibley) did some things offensively that challenged us," he said. "Their offense against our defense had some success throughout the night, but what we did a good job of was find a way to get off the field most of the night. Offensively we had a hard time getting started, we weren't real clean to begin with."
Those early drives for the Raiders' offense were derailed through some penalties and miscues. However, at the end of the half, Hastings was able to put together an 11 play, 80-yard drive and senior quarterback Trey Rogers scored on a 5-yard touchdown run. Junior Noah Kullman then added the 2-point conversion and the Raiders took an 8-7 lead going into halftime.
The second half started much as the first ended with Hastings driving down after a big return to the Henry Sibley 45-yard line. They made it down to the 15 behind strong running from Kullman out on the perimeter, an area that the Raiders were able to exploit continuously throughout the game.
"We were doing a nice job of getting to the edge of their defense, even in the first half a little bit, it's just that we would have penalties or miscues in the first half," Strain said. "We were having success getting to their edge, our perimeter run was good for whoever we ran, but in particular Noah (Kullman) because he's got some scoots and some wiggle. When he gets out in space he's tough to handle. He wasn't healthy to start the year, he's gotten healthier through the middle of the season and now for the last two weeks he's been back to full strength where we can let him go and he really looked in top form last night."
The drive stalled at the Henry Sibley 15, where the Raiders attempted a fake field goal that almost converted the fourth-and-10 as they were stopped just a half-yard short. They turned the ball over to Henry Sibley, but soon got it back after forcing the Warriors to punt. Hastings then mounted another scoring drive, this time 77 yards, which was set-up by a 45-yard run up the middle by Rogers after repeatedly running to the outside. Rogers then scored from 3 yards out and converted the 2-point attempt to make it 16-7 Hastings with 9:07 left in the game.
However, the Warriors would not be put away that easily. After the Raiders' score, Henry Sibley drove 70 yards in three-and-a-half minutes behind some big passing plays and scored to make it 16-14 Hastings with 5:36 left in the game.
Hastings then took over and immediately faced a fourth-and-2 in their own territory. Lined up one fourth down, the Raiders were able to make the Warriors jump offsides, which would have meant an automatic first down except for a controversial delay-of-game penalty that overrode the offsides penalty after a conference by the officials. Hastings punted into the wind and Henry Sibley took over at their own 45-yard line with just a few minutes left in the game.
A pass interference penalty on the Raiders put the Warriors at the Hastings 12-yard line. The Hastings defense stood tall in the red zone and forced a fourth-and-two at the four with just 30 seconds left in the game. Henry Sibley, with time stopped for a measurement and no timeouts, chose to forego the field goal and went for the touchdown. The Raiders' defense stopped them short of both the first down and the score to win the game.
"Outstanding effort with our backs against the wall," Strain said about the goal-line stand. "One thing we did have to decide was if we wanted to burn our timeouts to conserve time in case they do score. In doing so you probably give them time to think things through too, so you don't necessarily want to give them free timeouts to make decisions with either. So for us, we chose to let the clock run out and put it in our defenses hands and they made enough plays to get off the field."
Elevating their play
While the Hastings defense gave up its fair share of yards (Henry Sibley outgained the Raiders 325 to 239), they gave up just the two scores. Part of that effort was forcing two turnovers, a fumble recovery by Rogers and an interception by junior Ben Streeter. The other was a "bend but don't break" mentality where, like Strain said, they were able to get off the field when it counted.
Helping matters was a dominating rushing attack by the Raiders. Hastings ran the ball 40 times for 239 yards and two touchdowns, all while not attempting a single pass. Kullman's attacks on the perimeter produced 98 yards on 11 carries, making him the Raiders' leading rusher. Rogers carried the ball 20 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns, primarily up the middle which proved the complement to Kullman on the outside. Junior Corbin Leflay added five carries for 34 yards. Hastings averaged an impressive six yards per carry.
Hastings now travels to Apple Valley on Saturday, Oct. 24, for a 7 p.m. rematch against the Eagles. The Raiders fell to the Eagles 38-14 two weeks ago but Saturday figures to be under very different circumstances with a weather forecast of a high of 39 degrees, some wind and a small chance of snow/rain.