HARRISBURG – If there’s one lesson the Harrisburg Tigers have learned over the last two weeks, it’s that they can be a pesky football team when they play together and believe in themselves.
If there’s another thing they learned, it’s that extra points are important.
The Tigers beat Brookings 21-20 in overtime Friday night, the exact same result of their game last week in Douglas. Both times, Harrisburg’s opponent failed to convert the PAT on their overtime score, while Tiger kicker Jackson White did the job.
In this one it was Brookings scoring first in OT, on a 3-yard run by quarterback Devin Coughlin. But after the Tigers blocked the extra point, they knew the game was theirs for the taking. Jacob Klemme punched it in from four-yards out, and White’s kick split the uprights, sending the Tigers to 5-3 on the season.
“That’s crazy,” Tiger quarterback Kane Kittelson said of his team’s recent overtime fortune. “But we just beat a great team. This team is showing that it’ll keep fighting, and everything we do, we do together. We stuck together when we were down tonight. Our coaches got us fired up at halftime, and our fans made a difference in the second half. They were just roaring. I can’t thank them enough. They were vital to our success.”
Most impressively was how far Harrisburg had to come to win this one. They got pushed around in the first half and trailed 14-0 as they went to the locker room. But after the break it was a different game.
“This taught me and my coaches a lot about what kind of kids we have here,” Harrisburg coach Brandon White said of his team’s comeback. “That was a big, big game for our momentum and our mindset and our confidence.”
Brookings’ Justin Dean returned the opening kickoff for a 91-yard touchdown, but an illegal block negated it. Still, it set the stage for a half in which the Bobcats (3-5) were in control. Gerald Maxwell busted off a 53-yard run to open the scoring, and later added a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Bobcats the two-score lead. There was little evidence to suggest the visitors weren’t going to return home with a victory.
But that’s not what happened. Recognizing at halftime that they’d misidentified some of the Bobcat formations, the Tiger defense began cutting off the gaps and plugging up holes, and Maxwell suddenly had little room to maneuver. He finished the game with 110 rushing yards, but only 16 of them came after the break.
Meanwhile the Tiger offense, which had been its own worst enemy in the first half due to penalties, missed holes and an out-of-sync passing game, found its footing. A Klemme 2-yard touchdown dive cut the lead in half just before the end of the third quarter, and Kittleson punched one in with 6:04 to go to tie it at 14.
The Tigers appeared to gift-wrap a go-ahead score to the Bobcats when they fumbled a punt return at their own 34 with 4:38 to go, but the defense stepped up for its biggest stop of the game.
Harrisburg had a chance to win it in regulation, driving to the Brookings 18, but a hold pushed them out of field goal range and the drive ended with a Mitchell McKibben interception. That sent the game to OT.
Kittelson more or less took matters into his own hands late in the game, coming up with big runs to help his team dominate second half time of possession.
“That’s what we’re good at,” said the 5-foot-10 senior, who rushed for most of his 81 yards in the second half and completed 7-of-13 passes in the game. “We’re a team that likes to run the ball and we trust our coaches. We were really confident at the end.”
The Tigers wrap up the season with a home game next week against Yankton, with a renewed sense that they’ll be a factor when the playoffs begin.
“We have to build on this,” White said. “We understand after tonight we have a group with a lot of character, and we’re finally developing an identity, I think. A physical, smashmouth style of football, and that really revealed itself tonight.”