On a night when the offense provided a steady stream of big plays, it took one on special teams to keep Harding/Humboldt unbeaten Friday.
Junior linebacker Dominic Hardy blocked a 49-yard field goal with 45 seconds left to play as the KnightHawks held on to beat Minneapolis South 28-26 on the road in the rain at Les Barnard Field.
“That felt great,” said Hardy, whose team — in just its second season as a co-op — improved to 4-0. “Last year, that’s how they beat us — on a field goal in OT. We couldn’t let that happen again.”
Harding/Humboldt — ranked No. 10 in the state in the latest Class 5A state poll — boasts an impressive collection of playmakers, and it didn’t take the KnightHawks long to display their quick-strike capability Friday.
After a false start to open the game, senior quarterback Jorge Irizarry connected with sophomore Ai’Jhon Douglas on an 85-yard touchdown pass to put their team up 6-0.
“Ai’Jhon is going to be something special,” Irizarry said. “He’s only a sophomore right now, but when he gets to be a senior, he’s going to be a dog. That was a huge play right off the bat.”
Yet South answered back on its next possession, scoring on a 13-yard run by senior Nate Odren. The two-point conversion gave the Tigers an 8-6 lead with 8:13 remaining in the first quarter. They then caught a huge break when a holding call on the ensuing kickoff wiped out what would have been a 99-yard return for a touchdown by Douglas.
South (3-1) took advantage when senior Rai’Shaun Wade hauled in a 12-yard touchdown catch to put his team on top 14-6. The Tigers had a chance to expand that lead early in the second, but missed a 26-yard field goal attempt.
One play later, Harding/Humboldt senior Jod’e Trice scored on an 80-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion tied the score at 14.
“The upperclassmen on this team do a great job of making sure nobody gets in their own heads,” Irizarry said. “We make sure that we all keep going and never stop.”
That attitude carried into the start of the second half when Harding/Humboldt (4-0) blocked a punt and got the ball at the South 3-yard line. Irizarry then took the ball in for a touchdown to put the KnightHawks on top 20-14.
But as a hard rain steadily began to fall, the Tigers tied the score on junior quarterback Carter Bursinger’s 13-yard scamper on fourth-and-long with 4:09 remaining in the third quarter.
“We’re a young team,” said South head coach Ernest Sutton, whose team returned just two starters from a year ago and has started two eighth graders (though one was injured and did not play Friday).
“We’re inexperienced. But we have some guys who can make plays.”
It didn’t take Harding/Humboldt long to regain the lead, though. The KnightHawks went 47 yards on their next possession to score on an 18-yard run by senior Robert Htoo. The two-point conversion made the score 28-20 going into the fourth quarter.
South narrowed that gap to two when Bursinger lobbed the ball deep to Wade in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown with 9:24 to play. But Odren was stopped short on the two-point conversion attempt, leaving Harding/Humboldt up 28-26.
The Tigers got one more chance in the final minutes, advancing as deep as the KnightHawks’ 27 before an illegal procedure call moved the ball back to the 32. From there, three straight incompletions brought up fourth down, and Sutton sent his team out to line up for the field goal attempt by Bursinger, though the quarterback had the option to run a fake if he felt it was open.
“Carter hit one from 35 yards last year and he’s hit from 45 yards out in practice,” Sutton said. “He hit a 42-yarder in pregame tonight. But we were kind of hoping they’d sell out for the block and we could run a fake. They didn’t do that.”
Instead, Bursinger elected to kick and Hardy got his hands on the ball.
“My mind just went blank,” Hardy said. “I wanted to get the block. I wanted to seal the game.”
Harding/Humboldt will try to keep its unbeaten streak alive when the KnightHawks return home to face Minneapolis Henry at 6 p.m. next Friday at Humboldt.
“They believe,” said Harding/Humboldt head coach Andre Creighton, a 2009 Harding graduate. “We talk about our formula for success. You’ve got to believe, you’ve got to have good thoughts, you’ve got to trust your words and actions, you’ve got to have good habits, you’ve got to trust our values. And if you do all those things correctly, then it controls our destiny.”
“It feels unreal to be 4-0,” added Hardy, who attends Harding. “We went years without wins (before the two teams formed the co-op). We went years being on the other end of blowouts. It feels so good to come out here and get four wins in a row.”
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