A pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and a little luck of the Irish was what it took for the North Platte St. Pat’s football team to slip past Mitchell 34-21 in a cold and slushy shootout on Friday night at Mitchell High School.
The win improved the Irish to 5-3 on the season, while Mitchell fell to 3-4 with two games left on the schedule.
Although St. Pat’s lost its first three games of the season, they have now won four games in a row and have outscored their opponents 89-28 in those wins.
First-year Mitchell head coach Nick Kuxhausen was happy with the way his team played, but knows the Tigers have some issues to take care of before Chadron comes to town next Friday.
“I’m proud of our kids’ effort. They played hard,” he said. “We just had trouble stopping their power run game. They ran their power run game very efficiently and they are very good at it. Other than that first half, they did turn the ball over and we did in the second half. We had some costly penalties in the first half that really hurt us, but I’m proud of our kids’ effort. We just have to get over the hump and find a way to win these close games.”
Mitchell looked solid early on after capitalizing on a pair of St. Pat’s miscues in the first quarter. On the Irish’s first possession, The Tigers got a takeaway when Max Palomo came down with an interception to set up a 70-yard touchdown run from Rylan Aguallo on Mitchell’s second play from scrimmage. After the missed extra point, Mitchell held the early 6-0 lead at the 10:46 mark of the first quarter.
St. Pat’s started its next possession on its own 40, but a fumble recovered by Jake Chasek set the Tigers up on the St. Pat’s 38 yard line.
Quarterback Blake Thyne went to work on the next play, hitting Aguallo for a 36-yard strike down to the 2 yard line where Palomo would take it in and put the Tigers up 12-0. Thyne found John Thomas in the end zone for the 2-point conversion and extend the Mitchell lead to 14-0 with 10:17 to play in the first frame.
The second quarter belonged to the Irish, though. The Tiger defense held up for most of the quarter until St. Pat’s set up a drive from its own 46, capped off by a 7-yard run from Charles Aufdenkamp to cut the Mitchell lead to 14-7 after the extra point.
St. Pat’s put together its most impressive drive of the night after the Tigers turned the ball over on downs at the Irish 11 yard line with 2:25 to play in the half. Quarterback Dolan Branch completed a 62-yard pass down to the Mitchell 5 yard line with less than a minute to go before Charlie Gale punched it in the end zone three plays later to tie the game at 14-14 with just 20 seconds left to play before halftime.
Kuxhausen said he knew what St. Pat’s was capable of doing coming into the contest.
“They’re a very sound team. We knew going in they were a good football team,” he said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better quarter to put us in a better position, but they got us in the second quarter. We had a big turn, we were ready to score, and they held us on a goal-line stand and then turn around and take it down the field in two minutes. With their offense that’s something we shouldn’t let them do and that was a big momentum turn in the game and a 14-point swing.
After a long punt return down to the Mitchell 16 yard line, St. Pat’s set up a 1-yard keeper by Branch to take its first lead of the contest, 20-14 with 7:52 to play in the third quarter after the missed extra point. Mitchell, however, answered on its next possession when Thyne found Palomo from 6 yards out at the 3:50 mark of the frame and regained the lead, 21-20 after the point after from Thyne.
Mitchell couldn’t quite get things going in the final frame, giving up a 14-yard touchdown run from Branch at the 11:50 mark, and an 11 yard run from Aufdenkamp with 9:03 left to play.
Despite the turnout of the game and the condition of the field, Kuxhausen was pleased with the effort and told his players this would be a game they would remember for a long time down the road.
“I think it’s always fun for the kids when they get an opportunity (to play on a snow-covered field). I told them they would remember this game for the rest of their lives playing at home on the snow field and the way the game played out, I didn’t think we’d be able to throw the ball as efficiently as we did. We actually threw the ball very well tonight. I was really pleased with our offense the way we threw the ball, but defensively, we did not play very well tonight. We’ve been playing some good defense this year, but we did not do a good job stopping their inside run game.