How a team is able to handle adversity, especially come playoff time, could be the difference between a win and a loss in a tight game.
For Lafayette County, they kept rising to the challenge when needed Saturday against Brookfield in its Class 2 state quarterfinal game, and it resulted in a 38-36 victory.
“We don’t have guys that ever come off the field, so we talk a lot of about body language,” Huskers head coach Steve Cook said. “They rose to another level with that today. They maintained that level all game.”
Midway through the fourth quarter the Huskers had just scored to extend their lead to 32-21, but Brookfield didn’t go quietly. They put together a quick scoring drive and with 5 minutes, 9 seconds left to play, they cut the deficit to 32-29.
It got worse from there, as quarterback Kinser Madison fumbled at his own 35-yard line three plays into the Huskers’ ensuing drive, and all of a sudden the Bulldogs looked poised to regain the lead.
But the Husker defense buckled down, and on a fourth-and-7, Mason Haynes got his second interception of the game with just 2:41 left.
The very next play, Malcolm Elmore broke free for what would be the game-winner, an 88-yard touchdown run to make it 38-29.
“I was just reading the quarterback’s eyes,” Haynes said of the interception. “The ball was released and I just broke downhill. We’re all about those explosive, big plays. … To be on a team that isn’t going to give up is great.”
Added senior Eisley Hinton, “We had to come back. If we get hit in the mouth, we have to get up and play through it.”
That rung true in the first half, as the two teams traded punches early on. Both teams scored touchdowns on their first two drives - Madison on a run for the first score, while he found Elijah Thirkield for a 67-yard pass on the second.
After both defenses started to settle in, Haynes’ first interception came at big moment, just before the half. He returned the ball to the 1-yard line and Madison would score on the next play to make it 20-14 with just 12 seconds before the half.
Despite getting the ball first in the second half, it didn’t go as planned for the Huskers, as Jack Neher - briefly filling in for Madison - threw an interception and the Bulldogs capitalized on the next play with a 32-yard touchdown run to take a 21-20 lead.
More adversity, but another big response from the Huskers would come.
First was a huge fourth-and-goal from the Bulldog 8. Madison got nailed as he threw the ball but found Hinton made a diving one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown and a 26-21 lead after the two-point conversion failed.
“I felt it. I knew it was coming,” Hinton said. “It was just a little too far, but I reached out and I was just ecstatic. That’s the biggest play I’ve ever had.”
Added Cook, “That was a Hudl top 5 play.”
The defense would force a turnover on downs, giving the offense the ball back just in time for the kind of drive the Huskers don’t normally put together. They chewed up a little more than 7 minutes on a drive that ended with Hinton catching another touchdown, this one from 12 yards out for a 32-21 lead.
“A 7-minute drive, that’s not what we’re built on,” Cook said.
Cook wasn’t expecting a huge rushing game but due to the scheme Brookfield ran, that’s what helped propel the Husker offense all game. He thought the speed option could work, and he was right. They wound up with 300 yards rushing.
“We jumped on that again today,” Cook said of the speed option. “Malcolm did an amazing job blocking on it and Eisley and Elijah did the rest.”
The success on the ground also helped lead to some big gains in the passing game.
“They put more on the line and it opened up the box,” Hinton said. “The flats were open. We attacked those open spots. Our O-line was incredible.”
The win sets up a game with four-time defending state champion Lamar. That streak of four titles began with a win over Lafayette County back in 2011.
Hynes talked about how it was important the team focus on that game and not celebrate today’s win too long. Hinton was excited for another chance to face Lamar. And Cook is hopeful they can do what they couldn’t back in 2011.
“We want what they’ve got,” he said.