PIERRE – Brookings put up 306 yards rushing and the defense forced four Pierre turnovers, and turned the Governors over on downs twice in the red zone as the Bobcats went into the capital city and left with a 21-14 win on Thursday night.
It was the Bobcats’ first win in Pierre since 2008. The win locked up home-field advantage for the Bobcats for the quarterfinals next week, as well as the semifinals should Brookings win its first playoff game.
“Our defense was huge tonight,” Brookings head coach Brady Clark said. “Unfortunately, we put our defense in tough situations too many times tonight. Our defense bailed us out a lot tonight.
“Despite being tested again and again, our defense showed up when we needed them.”
The Bobcat defense showed up right away the first drive. Facing third and 12, Pierre quarterback Lincoln Kienholz completed a pass to running back Treyton Lewis, but Jaxton Eck’s strong tackle and subsequent strip of the football gave Brookings possession near midfield.
However, the Bobcats were unable to capitalize on the turnover and kicked the ball away.
Pierre opened the scoring later in the first quarter on a seven-yard pass from Kienholz to Cade Kaiser, but the extra point went from routine to difficult with a 15-yard post-touchdown personal foul assessed on the Governors. The now 35-yard extra point sailed wide right and left the score at 6-0 Pierre.
Brookings responded on its next drive marching 66 yards in 11 plays, capped by a four-yard Tyson Brandt touchdown run. The Payton Theodosopoulos’ extra point gave the Bobcats a 7-6 lead.
Looking to respond, the Governors quickly raced 61 yards with three pass completions only to have the Bobcats’ Hunter Gray make a leaping interception in the end zone to kill the drive and give Brookings possession at the 20 after the touchback.
Brandt picked up 38 yards on the first play of the drive and just one play later Gray sprinted 41 yards to the end zone and extended the Bobcat lead to 14-6.
Pierre was driving again to end the first half, having moved the ball to the Bobcat 15 yard line, but again the Bobcat defense came up with a takeaway when Sam Hardin picked off Kienholz at the goal line as the half expired.
Kienholz again had the Governors marching in the third quarter after forcing Brookings into a three-and-out to start the half. With the ball at the Brookings nine yard line the Bobcat defense stiffened its back, forcing three straight incompletions including a pair of tipped passed by Eck and Carter Wright, turning over the Governors on downs and preserving the lead.
Pierre later had the ball at the Brookings 14 and Brandt tipped away a Kienholz pass in the end zone on first down. Three more incompletions later Brookings had again stopped the high-powered Pierre offense.
Taking over possession less than a minute into the fourth quarter Brookings picked up a first down and moved the ball outside their own 30 yard line, but needing a yard on third down, the Bobcats couldn’t move the sticks. Brookings took a risk on fourth down and again couldn’t pick up the yard, giving Pierre possession at the Bobcat 34.
This time the Bobcat defense couldn’t keep the Govs from scoring as Kienholz connected with Matthew Hanson from seven yards out, then took in the two-point conversion himself, tying the game at 14-14 with just 3:44 remaining.
That’s when the Bobcat offense woke back up.
Gray ripped off a 16-yard gain, then nearly took it the distance with a 49-yard run before being tackled at the eight-yard line.
Brandt capped off the drive on third down by stretching the ball over the goal line and with the extra point, Brookings led 21-14 with just 1:22 left.
Fittingly, the Bobcat defense put an exclamation point on the game with another turnover when Hardin pounced on a forced fumble and secured the Brookings win.
Clark was proud of the defensive performance, but was equally complementary of the offense stepping up at the end of the game.
“Our offense showed up when we needed them the most at the end of the game,” Clark said. “It’s good to know that when we need to, we’ve shown our offense can do that.”
Both Brandt and Gray topped 100 yards in the game. Brandt racked up 115 yards on 20 carries with a pair of touchdowns and Gray added 104 yards on 12 attempts with a score.
Hardin had 48 yards on three carries.
Despite picking up over 300 yards rushing, Clark said what hurt Brookings the most was not finishing drives.
“We moved the ball well. We had over 300 yards rushing and that’s what we want,” Clark said. “But we need to do a better job sustaining drives, We just can’t turn the ball over.
“Our offense for most of the game showed what it can do, we just need to do it for four quarters.”
Justin Cofell attempted just seven passes all game, completing three for 28 yards. Gray (16 yards), Brandt (10 yards), and Jackson Hoffmann (two yards) each made one catch.
Defensively, Eck recorded eight tackles and a sack, while Brandt had seven tackles and Josh Devine added six.
Eck and Brandt each had a pair of pass-breakups. Theodosopoulos, Lincoln Hardin and Wright each got their hands on a pass as well.
Kienholz piled up 419 yards himself, completing 30-of-56 passes for 360 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He picked up 66 yards rushing on 11 attempts.
Hanson had eight receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown for Pierre, while Jack Merkwan added six catches for 59 yards.
Brookings closes the regular-season at 7-2 and will host Aberdeen Central in the quarterfinals of the 11AA playoffs on Thursday, Oct. 28. Game time has not yet been announced.