Good things come in threes.
Three years ago, Kevin Denker and Kyle Kern-Blystone smashed an Otsego receiver short on a last minute fourth down play to preserve the Vikings 20-14 season opening night upset victory over the Knights.
Thirteen current Vikings including Nick Etue and Josh Laux were freshmen on that team.
That pair learned well from their elders that night, as last year they made some magic of their own, hooking up on a fourth down touchdown pass on the last play of the game that combined with a Jake Clay conversion run boosted the Vikes to a 22-20 opening week win.
Just like a bad dream for Otsego, that same duo made that spell over the Knights last another year as Etue vaulted into the endzone on a fourth-and-five run with 31 seconds left to give Evergreen a 27-23 lead, while Laux batted away a last ditch bomb to preserve yet another first game triumph over the Knights at Pifer Field.
That victory came despite the Vikings turning the ball over three times either near or inside the Otsego 20.
The first of those came on Evergreen’s very first possession when after Tyler Noe gave the Vikes great field position by running the opening kick to the 47.
From there Etue hit four straight passes to get the Vikings to the 25 but his fifth aerial was picked off by Wil Varner at the Knights’ 9 to end that drive.
However, after the Viking defense forced a punt, Evergreen went to the ground as Etue and Peyton Pawlaczyk blasted for 10 and 12 yards respectively to get to the 30 where Etue found Jon Milliken slicing across the middle for a touchdown to give Evergreen a 7-0 lead with 3:09 left in the first.
Otsego answered with 4:07 left in the second quarter when the Knights capped a nine play, 52 yard drive with Colton Battin’s 14 yard strike to Lance Sniegowski in the corner of the endzone to tie the game with 4:07 left in the half.
The Vikes drove to the Otsego 22, aided by a couple of Otsego penalties totaling 25 yards but Etue threw another interception to kill a last minute scoring attempt.
Austin Meier’s 29 yard field goal on Otsego’s first possession of the second half gave the Knights a 10-7 lead, but Evergreen answered right back just over three minutes later. Levi Carson took an Etue pass and ran through and bowled over tacklers picking up 37 yards to the Knight 39.
Then on fourth down from the 37, Tyler Noe hauled in a strike for 34 yards to the 3 where Etue took it into paydirt for a 13-10 lead.
However, Battin getting plenty of time, rolled to his right and hit three straight passes, the last a 46-yarder to Zane Maxwell to the Viking 2 where Dalton Limes regained the lead for Otsego with 1:55 left in the third at 17-13.
The Vikings battled back again as Etue found Laux on three straight passes to start the drive, then Carson on the edge for another first down before finding Dylan Komisarek who made a circus catch on a tipped ball to give Evergreen the lead at 20-17 with 11:13 left in the game.
After an exchange of punts, Otsego faced a fourth-and-seven at the Viking 40 where Battin found Sniegowski again in the flat, where the sophomore receiver weaved for a go-ahead score with 6:13 left.
Evergreen set sail again with Etue finding Carson on a third-and-10 for a first down, then again on fourth-and-15 from his own 47 for 18 yards to get to the Otsego 35.
Consecutive passes to Sean Higgins and Pawlaczyk got the ball to the 6 but a fumble crushed the Viking drive and gave the ball back to Otsego with 4:00 left.
However, the Viking defense made a big stand by stopping Limes for no gain, stuffing Mason Gonzalez for a three-yard loss and with Pawlaczyk in his face, Battin threw the ball away forcing fourth down with just under three minutes to go.
“A lot of that came because we got pressure on the edge,” explained Viking coach Paul Amstutz. “Those guys buckled down and they brought it. We had their guys covered, so we figured it out when we had to make plays and we did it.”
A Knight punt rolled dead at the 38, giving the Vikings great position and after Etue went incomplete on his first ball, he found Laux for 13 to the 25 for a first down.
A Noe catch gave the Vikings nine more, and Laux’ grab made it first-and-goal at the 5.
However, a false start and consecutive incomplete passes brought up third-and-goal at the 10 before Carson’s catch brought the ball back to the original line of scrimmage to bring up fourth down with 31 ticks left.
Etue rolled left, then with receivers speading the Knight defense went straight upfield, going airborne over a Knight defender into the end zone to give the Vikings a 27-23 lead.
“That’s what we preached all year was battling from adversity,” said Amstutz. “They could have folded right there (after that fumble on the 6) but we fought through it. We got a big stop when we needed a big stop and scored when we had to score.”
The Knights took over on the Vikings’ 27 and hit two passes to Gonzalez to get the ball to the 49, but under heavy pressure from Pawlaczyk and Tyler Coopshaw, Battin unloaded deep but Laux knocked the ball away as the clock hit triple zero’s.
“We made stops defensively when we had to,” stated Amstutz. “Once we get more consistent inside the 20 we’re going to be tougher to stop.”
The Vikings won the total yardage battle with 407 yards to 306.
Etue was 25 of 48 for 306 yards with two scores and a pair of interceptions while Battin went 13 for 22 and 228 yards.
Evergreen held the Knights to just 78 yards on the ground in 33 carries while picking up 101 in 23.
Seven different Vikings caught passes led by Carson with nine grabs for 109 yards, and Laux who had 67 yards on eight catches.
The Vikings travel to Montpelier this Friday to face the 0-1 Locos before returning home to play Ottawa Hills the following week.
Joe Blystone can be reached at [email protected]