Grand Island Senior High may have lost the turnover battle, but it definitely won the war as it defeated North Platte 28-10 Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
The Islanders (3-5) took the win in spite of an early interception deep in its own territory, three fumbles lost inside the North Platte 37 and a failure to convert a first down at the Bulldog 10. What did work for Grand Island was a big night on the ground from Braden Knuth, who finished with 150 yards and three touchdowns, and a defense that effectively controlled the North Platte offense for the final three quarters of the game.
“I’m really proud of our team,” Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin said. “We made some turnovers, but the kids played very hard and our seniors really stepped up. I think we left a couple of scores out on the turf, but overall we did a good pretty good job.”
Things didn’t look so great early on, as the teams traded scores quickly in the opening minutes. On the second play of the game, Grand Island had a 66-yard run by Jaden Aken negated by a holding call, and a flag for a chop block on the next play put the Islanders deep in their own territory.
Shawn Farley picked off a pass from Pierce Almond to give the visitors the ball at the Grand Island 40. North Platte got as close as the 7 yard line, but had to settle for a 24-yard field goal.
Grand Island responded by going 80 yards in only six plays, capped by a 39-yard burst up the gut by Knuth. After the kickoff, North Platte (2-6) quickly found itself facing a third and seven from its 23.
Quarterback Dylon Mlady, whose ability to avoid sacks bedeviled the Islander defense all night, evaded the pressure and launched a strike down the left sideline to Luke Volz. Seventy-seven yards later, the Bulldogs regained the lead 10-7 with over five minutes to play in the first quarter.
However, from that point on the Grand Island defense flexed its muscle, and North Platte crossed midfield only once for the rest of the game. The Islanders found themselves able to run the ball and control both the clock and field position, but only so long as they were able to hold on to the ball.
Grand Island took advantage of a North Platte fumble late in the first, taking over at its 31. Knuth opened the drive with a 23 yard run, followed by a 14-yard pass from Almond to Jacob Cornelius. On the first play of the second period, Almond scrambled through the heart of the Bulldog defense for 26 yards and the go-ahead score.
But the Islanders failed to convert two other opportunities, losing a fumble at the North Platte 30, and after snaring a late interception, saw Almond get sacked on the final play of the half.
Grand Island added another score, a two-yard run by Knuth, in the third period, but also turned the ball over twice on fumbles. The Islanders then had the opportunity to stretch their lead, controlling the ball for just over six minutes early in the fourth, but North Platte’s defense twice stopped Grand Island from the 1-yard line.
Tomlin saw his defense hold once again, and a short punt and gutsy return by Cornelius put Grand Island back in business at the 20, and this time the Islanders did not disappoint. Knuth broke loose outside left for five yards as Grand Island put the game well and truly out of reach.
“Field position was not our friend tonight,” North Platte coach Bernie Madison said. “We played a big part of the game on our half of the field, and Grand Island’s defense made it tough to do a lot.
“They really run to the ball well, and we didn’t get many yards after contact tonight. We gave up a lot of yards early just due to missed assignments, so we did a better job controlling their outside running game as things went on. But Grand Island just kept coming at us.”
Tomlin gave his team credit for persevering in spite of the turnover situation.
“It hurts when you give up the ball, but we did some nice things defensively and got a couple back,” he said. “Their quarterback is very elusive, and I give him a lot of credit for how he played. I thought we were able to hem him in better, especially with our blitzes. Tonight was a just a good win for us.”
Grand Island 28, North Platte 10
North Platte...............................10 0 0 0 — 10
Grand Island..................7 7 7 7 — 28
NP — Hedgecock 24 field goal, 7:24.
GI — Knuth 39 run (Wentling PAT kick), 6:08.
NP — Volz 77 pass from Mlady (Hedgecock PAT kick), 5:04.
GI — Almond 26 run (Wentling PAT kick), 11:49.
GI — Knuth 2 run (Wentling PAT kick), 2:24.
GI — Knuth 5 run (Wentling PAT kick), 2:36.
First Downs 11 16
Rushing 34-79 46-262
Passing Yards 187 105
Comp-Att-Int 9-23-2 7-12-1
Punts-Avg 6-27 2-40
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 5-3
Penalties 3-30 4-30
RUSHING — NP, Mlady 16-42, Kenny 4-15, Chromy 11-15, Trujillo 2-5, Mauch 1-2. GI, Knuth 24-150, Schutte 12-57, Almond 8-40, Cornelius 1-18, Aken 1-(-3).
PASSING — NP, Mlady 9-23-2-187. GI, Almond 7-12-1-105.
RECEIVING — NP, Volz 4-120, Kenny 3-54, Chromy 2-13. GI, Cornelius 3-79, Aken 3-22, Knuth 1-4.