Gage Smith’s 30-yard field goal and Ryan Schwartzkopf’s interception return for a touchdown all in the final 17 seconds of the fourth quarter propelled the Gering football team to a 26-17 win over visiting Grand Island Northwest on Friday night at Memorial Stadium in Gering.
Smith’s go-ahead field goal bounded through off the up right to put the Bulldogs in front 20-17. Schwartzkopf then slammed the door on the Vikings by intercepting a pass and returning it 50 yards in the closing seconds.
The win snapped Gering’s two-game losing streak and improved the Bulldogs to 2-3 on the season heading into next week’s game at winless Hastings.
“This is our first win at home, and tonight it felt like everything came together,” Smith said. “All of us played together and played hard the whole game. It just proved we could play a whole game and beat a good team.”
The game see-sawed back and forth throughout, but it was Gering’s bend but don’t break defense in the fourth quarter that was key. Twice Northwest drove deep into Gering territory in the final frame and came up empty. The Bulldogs’ Schwartzkopf picked off a pass at the 1-yard line to stall one drive with around eight minutes to play, while a big, blue, gang sack pushed the Vikings back across midfield into their own territory on another promising drive under two minutes.
After the sack forced a punt with under a minute to play, it looked like the game was headed to overtime. But Gering senior quarterback Dillon DeMott, who was back under center for the first time since suffering a knee injury in the season opener, completed a quick pass to Justin Brester and then scampered 15 yards all the way down to the Viking 20. DeMott was sacked back at the 28 on the next play, but Smith then busted through the middle for 15 yards to put Gering in field goal position with 21 seconds left. Smith then banged through the go-ahead points.
“It’s good for our team morale and confidence,” said Smith, who led Gering in rushing with 148 yards on 22 carries. “I think it definitely gives us a lot of momentum for the rest of the season.”
Smith had a hand or foot in nearly all of Gering’s scores. He finished with touchdown runs of 16 and 47, while also booting another field goal from 36.
DeMott completed 9 of his 19 passes for 94 yards. Schwartzkopf caught four passes for 45 yards and Brester had four catches for 34 yards.
DeMott also ran six times for 26 yards.
Northwest sophomore quarterback Christian Ellsworth completed 29 of his 48 passes for 282 yards. His 43-yard touchdown strike to Ryan Hipke gave the Vikings a 9-7 lead after the first quarter.
Hipke was the main target of most of Ellsworth’s passes. He caught 17 balls for 179 yards. Taylor Willis had seven catches for 79 yards.
Ellsworth also led Northwest on the ground with 63 yards on 24 carries. He finished the game with 345 yards of total offense.
Ty Johnson added 43 yards rushing on six carries.
Northwest totaled 24 first downs in the contest compared to Gering’s 17.
Ellsworth’s 1-yard run and 2-point conversion pass to Willis tied the game at 17-17 before Gering’s late-game heroics.
Grand Island Northwest (1-4) ............... 9 0 8 0 — 17
Gering (2-3) ........................................... 7 7 3 9 — 26
NW — Austin Allen 22 field goal
G — Gage Smith 16 run (Gage Smith kick)
NW — Ryan Hipke 43 pass from Christian Ellsworth (Kick failed)
G — Smith 47 run (Smith kick)
G — Smith 36 field goal
NW — Ellsworth 1 run (Taylor Willis pass from Ellsworth)
G — Smith 30 field goal
G — Ryan Schwartzkopf 50 interception return