MELROSE — From the folks that brought you come-from-behind, improbable playoff victories in 2014, comes another wild win, albeit in 2015.
The Holdingford Huskers surprised the Melrose Dutchmen 21-20 in the Section 6-3A playoffs on a perfect fall evening at Omer Sieben Field.
“I’m really surprised myself,” said Holdingford junior tight end Brandon Skroch, who had a 35-yard reception on the winning drive.
It was a back-and-forth affair that saw Holdingford earn an early lead that stuck through halftime, only to relinquish it early in the fourth quarter. Melrose supplied plenty of drama, too.
Then, the Huskers put together one last scoring drive … and kicked the extra point.
“I think our kids had a lot of energy today,” Holdingford head coach Luke Mitchell said. “There was a lot more energy, especially after last week (a one-sided lost to No. 1-ranked Pierz).”
The victory sends sixth-seeded Holdingford (5-4) into the section semifinals. The Huskers play at second-seeded Montevideo at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Thunder Hawks (8-1) rallied late in the fourth quarter to beat seventh-seeded Litchfield (4-5), 21-17.
“That was a hard-fought game,” said delighted junior running back Nolan Prokott, who rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries. “Oh man.
“That was close.”
Third-seeded Melrose (5-4), meanwhile, was in shock.
“Devastated,” was how Dutchmen senior running back Zack Pierskalla described the game. “It’s hard to take for sure.”
Holdingford led 14-6 at halftime. Melrose tied it up when a 13-play, 90-yard drive was culminated by Pierskalla’s four-yard touchdown run out of the I-formation behind the Dutchmen’s dominant left side of the line. Pierskalla then got the two-point conversion to make it 14-14 with 3:49 to go in the third quarter.
The Dutchmen then took the lead in the fourth quarter. Starting the drive on their 13, Pierskalla ran a simple running play on second-and-10, broke a couple tackles and wound up at midfield with several Holdingford defenders hanging on to him.
But the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder wasn’t done. With his blockers surrounding him, Pierskalla’s blockers encircled him and the rugby-like scrum kept moving. Pierskalla eventually broke out of it after about 10 or so yards and got it down to the Holdingford 14 for a 73-yard gain.
“I was like, ‘OK, it’s over,'” Prokott said. “I was just jogging at that point.
“Then he comes out of the pile and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ That was crazy. He’s a really strong kid.”
Pierskalla, who was fighting back tears afterward, smiled when the play was mentioned.
“I just remember everybody yelling: ‘Let’s go. Let’s go,'” he said.
Pierskalla wound up with 240 yards rushing on 30 carries.
“I think he’s the best back in the area,” Mitchell said.
A couple plays later, lefty quarterback Tyler Braegelmann found Caldin Rieland wide open in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown with 9:50 to go. The PAT try failed, leaving it Melrose 20, Holdingford 14.
The Huskers, the 2014 state Class 2A champions, then went to work. There was no offensive lineman throwing the winning touchdown pass to the quarterback in overtime like Holdingford did to win the title. But it was still exciting.
Quarterback Alex Knapp found Skroch for a 35-yard gain to get it down to the Melrose 39.
“I was really surprised,” Skroch said. “I’m not usually one of the main pass catchers.”
Then, Griffin Olson, not one of the main ball carriers, rambled for nine yards. Then, Wyatt Johnson went 25 yards. Prokott went four to get it to the Melrose 1. Johnson then plunged in for the score to tie it.
And then sophomore Jayden Prochaska booted his third extra point of the night. Knapp took a high snap from another sophomore, Jordan Schmitz, the long-snapper.
“That was huge,” Mitchell said.
Melrose had plenty of time to go ahead. But junior defensive back Levi Volkenant picked off a pass and returned it 18 yards to the Holdingford 43 with 4:56 to play.
The Huskers then ran out the clock, running nine straight running plays and getting three first downs.
Holdingford lives to see another day in the playoffs.
“That’s a pretty good feeling,” Prokott said.
“It’ll be interesting to see what our coaches pull out of their sleeves (against Montevideo),” Skroch said.
H — Alex Knapp 13 run (Jayden Prochaska kick)
M — Zack Pierskalla 6 run (kick failed)
H — Blake Patrick 59 pass from Knapp (Proschaska kick)
M — Pierskalla 4 run (Pierskalla run)
M — Caldin Rieland 16 pass from Tyler Braegelmann (run failed)
H — Wyatt Johnson 1 run (Prochaska kick)
Rushing: H — Nolan Prokott 20-100, Johnson 6-59, Aaron Maleska 3-18, Knapp 6-15, Griffin Olson 2-11. Total: 37-203. M — Pierskalla 30-240, Mason Wenker 8-29, Bryce Stalboerger 1-2, Braegelmann 5-(-13). Total: 44-258.
Passing: H — Knapp 4-6-1 153, Patrick 0-1-0. M — Braegelmann 8-15-1 116.
Receiving: H — Brandon Skroch 2-89, Patrick 1-59, Johnson 1-5. M — Jordan Klaphake 3-49, Drake Meyer 2-8, Tyler Moscho 1-42, Rieland 1-16, Pierskalla 1-1,
Follow Tom Elliott on Twitter @sctimestom or call 259-3661