MONTPELIER – In the span of 12 minutes of football Friday night at Montpelier, Evergreen football fans saw no less than 18 underclassmen starters grow up.
Down 26-13 into the fourth quarter, the Vikes made almost every big fourth down play in the last stanza, climaxed by sophomore Nick Beemer’s 25-yard field with 4.2 seconds left to give Evergreen a 29-26 victory over the Locomotives.
The win was the first in the career of first-year Viking coach Aaron Schmidt.
“The kids showed a lot of guts,” said Schmidt. “They never gave up. We preach to them winners find a way to win games, and man, they showed some guts. Our coaching staff made some adjustments at halftime. The guys up in the box helped me make some great calls, and then our kids just executed.”
Evergreen fell behind quickly 14-0 in the first quarter as Dakota Benner hit Phillip Pease for a 33-yard score, then hooked up with Kolden Uribes for a 17-yard strike.
Free Canales’ 30-yard catch and run of a short Jack Etue pass led to an Etue to Grant Donnald seven-yard touchdown with 3:08 left in the half to cut the Loco lead in half at 14-7.
Any momentum the Vikings mustered at the end of the half was countered 14 seconds into the third quarter when Austin Grubb fumbled the opening kickoff, and after finally finding the handle, he only needed a couple steps to bypass the charging Viking kickoff team for an 80-yard score that bumped the Montpelier lead again to two scores, 20-7.
It was Canales again putting the Vikes in scoring position with a catch of a short pass and darting and cutting for a 48 yard gain.
Three plays later, Hunter Van Wert blasted his way through three tackles, picking up eight of his 123 yards on the night on a scoring run to get Evergreen back to within 20-13.
The Locos came right back their next drive, Pease running a counter 32 yards to set up Benner’s two-yard sneak to again get Montpelier up 13 at 26-13 late in the third.
It was then that the youthful Vikings matured.
Etue rolled out and kept going for a 13-yard run, coupled with a late hit out-of-bounds, put the ball inside the 10 heading into the fourth.
On the second play into the last quarter, the sophomore combo of Etue and Beemer combined for an eight-yard scoring pass to get Evergreen within 26-20.
After a three-and-out, Evergreen moved to midfield facing a critical fourth-and-two decision.
Schmidt decided to go and Etue hit a wide open Donnald underneath and the senior receiver sprinted 32 yards to the Loco 18.
“You can throw names out there of all the guys who made plays,” said Schmidt. “Free Canales had a big game, Grant had some huge catches after being kind of quiet in the offense last week, we could go on and on. I mean kids made plays all over the place.”
On the second play after Donnald’s catch and run, Van Wert bolted 16 yards around the right side to tie the game with 7:25 to go.
However, Beemer’s point after hit the upright to maintain the deadlock.
Montpelier moved to the Viking 44 and faced a fourth-and-less than one, but Noah Malosh and Jack Worline stuffed Benner’s sneak attempt to give the ball back to Evergreen.
“You can’t forget about the big guys up front,” stated Schmidt. “They worked hard the whole game, Montpelier showed us different and we adjusted.”
Montpelier had a golden opportunity to go ahead late after stopping the Vikings on fourth down when Etue’s pass to Canales was short at the Loco 47.
A Benner to Uribes pass put Montpelier inside the 30, but on a third-and-five, Bryce Eisel shook the ball loose from Grubb and Beemer fell on it giving the Vikings one last chance.
Van Wert started the drive by racing for 21, and Etue picked up another first down inside Loco territory at the 45.
However, a short gain and two incomplete passes forced a fourth down at the 43 with 27 seconds left.
Again Schmidt rolled the dice and came up with a lucky seven as Brian Floyd took Aaron Pember’s fake punt pass and bulled his way to a first down.
“We were about a second and a half from punting the ball” explained Schmidt. “I talked to the coaches on the sideline and in the box and said ‘lets fake it’. So that call went in literally moments before the snap.”
Etue hit Donnald again underneath and Donnald made his way to the Loco 8, bringing on Beemer.
This time his kick was a no doubter down the middle to give Evergreen a three point lead.
Benner dropped back one last time but Colton Pawlaczyk and Issac Yunker pressured him to the sideline and when Benner tried to roll away, Malosh sacked him to end the game.
The Vikes got 216 yards passing from Etue and 228 overall to go with 140 on the ground.
Evergreen now hosts Ottawa Hills Friday night at Pifer Field.