AVOCA, Iowa — A-H-S-T punted quickly on its first four possessions. It gave up a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
In a big district matchup, the Vikings certainly had their chances to give in.
But Iowa Class A No. 6 A-H-S-T showed Friday night why this season could be a memorable one. Austin Fink scored on an 8-yard touchdown in the final minutes to put his team back up, and the Vikings forced a late turnover to hold off No. 10 Griswold 31-21.
“It's not exactly how you always draw it up on the chalkboard,” A-H-S-T coach Davis Pattee said. “But I'm happy for our guys to get off to this start.”
The District 8 clash turned into trench warfare between two programs that lean heavily on their rushing attacks. Griswold's Caleb Schaaf collected a game-high 148 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries while teammate Ken Clary churned out 140 yards on 32 carries.
A-H-S-T backs Fink (53 rushing yards) and Kyle Bauerkemper (64) paced the home team along with quarterback Nathan Herbst, who got 62 of his 79 ground yards on a dash with 1:50 left in the first half.
“The game goes by a lot faster, that's for sure,” Fink said. “It was a lot of hard-mouth football. Whoever could move the ball best and got the front (line) going the best did the best.”
But while the Tigers (2-2, 1-1) won the battle of total offense 400-302, a pair of key turnovers went to A-H-S-T (4-0, 2-0).
With the game tied 14-all in the third quarter, Griswold called 12 straight run plays to reach the Viking 19-yard line. But on the 13th snap, Herbst intercepted a pass by quarterback Holden Ogg in the end zone and returned it 66 yards into Tiger territory.
That set up a Vikings field goal to go up 17-14. But Griswold responded with a 10-play drive that ended with Tyler Muhlbauer's 14-yard scoring run to make it 21-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Each team stopped the other before A-H-S-T went up to stay. Herbst completed one of his five passes on the night for 36 yards to Lee Whyte on a rollout, which helped set the stage for Fink's hurdling touchdown to the left side with 3:26 to play.
“Our mentality if we're up at the end of the game is to step on their throats,” Fink said. “I was cutting it up and just found a hole.”
Down 24-21, Griswold fumbled the second snap of its ensuing drive and Drew Young recovered for A-H-S-T. It sealed the game five plays later when Bauerkemper plunged ahead for a 6-yard celebration.
“I'd like to say it was great schemes or anything like that, but it was a matter of the boys making plays, it really was,” Pattee said. “I don't think Griswold let off the gas. Our guys just keyed in and got more aggressive and physical up front.
“It's tough to do against that Griswold team, but they did what they needed to do and stopped them when we needed it.”
Griswold looked like it might run away early. Schaaf broke through on his team's second play from scrimmage for a 74-yard sprint down the right sideline. The Tigers' defense took over from there, forcing four straight three-and-out sequences for A-H-S-T to begin the game.
The Vikings finally got a first down midway through the second quarter and made it count. Three Griswold penalties helped the home squad move down the field for an 11-play drive, capped when Herbst found Whyte on a flare route for a 28-yard score.
Two plays later, Schaaf responded for Griswold with a 59-yard burst — then a run up the gut on the conversion — to go back up 14-7. On A-H-S-T's next snap, Herbst kept the ball and scampered into the end zone from 62 yards out for the equalizer.
A-H-S-T lost to Griswold 17-7 last year. But this year's group is showing no inclination to repeat past frustrations with its 4-0 start.
“I'm proud of the guys for staying in there and fighting even when we haven't been playing perfect football,” Pattee said. “Those are all really good football teams we've had a chance to get by.”
Griswold (2-2, 1-1) ................................ 6 8 0 7—21
At A-H-S-T (4-0, 2-0) ............................ 0 14 3 14—31
G: Caleb Schaaf 74 run (kick failed)
A: Lee Whyte 28 pass from Nathan Herbst (Steven Jacobsen kick)
G: Schaaf 59 run (Schaff run)
A: Herbst 62 run (Jacobsen kick)
A: Jacobsen 21 FG
G: Tyler Muhlbauer 14 run (Holden Ogg kick)
A: Austin Fink 8 run (Jacobsen kick)
A: Kyle Bauerkemper 6 run (Jacobsen kick)
RUSHING: G, Tyler Bauerkemper 15-85, Caleb Schaaf 11-148, Ken Clary 32-140, Team 1-(-4). A, Austin Fink 14-53, Terry Shannon 4-13, Nathan Herbst 9-79, Dustin Engel 3-14, Kyle Bauerkemper 13-64.
PASSING: G, Holden Ogg 2-4-1 31. A, Herbst 5-9-0 79.
RECEIVING: G, Jordan Vetter 1-17, Clary 1-14. A, Lee Whyte 2-64, Engel 1-2, Shannon 1-10, Fink 1-3.