Gray’s four touchdowns overpower Yankton

Brookings' Hunter Gray runs the ball for a touchdown during the second quarter of a 35-20 win over Yankton Friday night at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings.

BROOKINGS – A nearly 20-minute advantage in time of possession allowed Brookings to do what it does best and run the ball as the Bobcats racked up 303 yards on the ground in a 35-20 win over Yankton on Friday night at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

Brookings held the ball for nearly 34 minutes, a product of the Bobcats ball-control offense and Yankton’s fast-paced nature.

“With their offense being a lot of quick-hitter type things, that also means we get the ball longer,” Bobcat head coach Brady Clark said. “We have so many two-way players who play both offense and defense; if we were to go fast-paced on offense we’re going to be exhausted.”

After a scoreless first quarter with four combined punts and a Bobcats missed field goal, Brookings got on the board with their first drive of the second quarter, an 11-play, 82-yard drive punctuated when Justin Cofell found Hunter Gray down the sideline, who turned a 24-yard gain into a 45-yard touchdown after breaking a tackle at the Bucks’ 21. Payton Theodosopoulos’ extra point put Brookings up 7-0.

Yankton’s quick-strike offense needed just 96 seconds to even the score as the Bucks quickly moved 72 yards. A long run by Yankton quarterback Rugby Ryken and a personal foul at the end of the play put the ball inside the Brookings 15-yard line. Three plays later James Stewart scored from a yard out and with the extra point tied the score at seven.

Gray would score his second touchdown on the Bobcats’ next drive, this time on the ground from 21 yards out, and Brookings regained the lead at 14-7.

The Bobcats forced a three and out, aided by a combined sack on second down by Josh Devine and Brock Longville and solo sack from Jaxton Eck on third down. Sam Hardin got a piece of the punt and Brookings started inside Yankton territory.

Driving again, Cofell tried to find Gavin Fixsen over the middle and was picked off inside the ten-yard line and brought the half to a close after one Yankton kneel-down.

Brookings opened a two-score lead with their first drive of the second half, a 12-play, 78-yard march which ate up half the quarter. Gray and Brandt combined for 65 yards on the ground before Cofell hooked up with Gray for a five-yard score. The extra point was no good, and Brookings led 20-7.

Yankton used a pair of big plays on their next drive to cut the Brookings lead back to six. Ryken completed a pair of long passes, one to Tyler Sohler for 28 yards and another to Cameron Zahrbock for 29 yards, and in just one minute and 42 seconds the Bucks were within a score.

Looking to regain a two-score lead Brookings drove halfway into Yankton territory on their next possession, but on fourth down Cofell was intercepted for the second time in the game and Yankton had a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter.

However, the Bobcat defense would get the ball back as Zach Moe snuffed out a Yankton fake-punt from their own 37 and Brookings took over at the Bucks’ 33.

Four plays later, Brandt plunged in from five yards out, and the junior running back also scored on the subsequent two-point conversion as Brookings led 28-14.

Hardin sealed the game on the next Yankton drive, stepping in front of a Ryken pass and returning it 34 yards, just one broken tackle from a pick-six.

Gray’s fourth touchdown of the night from two yards out gave Brookings a 35-14 lead.

Yankton added a late touchdown to account for the final 35-20 margin.

It wasn’t a perfect game, Clark said, but a win is a win.

“Our focus, I felt, wasn’t quite there even during warm-ups,” Clark said. “It was senior night which is great but there is always a thought of where your mind is at. It definitely showed at times in the first half.”

Gray’s four touchdowns were just part of his huge game as he totaled 218 total yards – 152 rushing and 66 receiving on six receptions.

Brandt posted 87 yards on the ground with a touchdown and Israel Caldron added another 51 yards rushing for the Bobcats, who out gained the Bucks 303-129 via the run.

“Hunter [Gray] and Tyson [Brandt] both ran the ball great, and Izzy [Israel Caldron] as well,” Clark said. “Controlling the clock is big for us. We moved the ball well and did so for most of the game. I never really felt like we couldn’t move the ball.”

Cofell finished the game 8-of-15 for 76 and two touchdowns, but also the two interceptions.

“We tried forcing a few passes,” Clark commented. “Maybe that was because we knew it was third or fourth down even though it was two-down territory. Those are things we’re still learning and it’s okay.”

Eck and Longville were in the Bucks’ backfield all night long.

Eck racked up seven tackles (three for loss) and a pair of sacks, while Longville also recorded a sack and five tackles, two for loss.

In all the Bobcats defense made 13 stops behind the line of scrimmage resulting in a net loss of 46 yards for Yankton.

Ryken had a hand in 229 (116 passing and 113 rushing) of the Bucks’ 245 total yards, including several chunk-plays.

“Big plays really hurt us again and we need to improve on that,” Clark said. “It wasn’t our cleanest game and we’ve got things to improve on and learn from.”

Brookings is now 6-2 with a game at Pierre on Thursday to close the regular season.

“We’ve been through some battles all season – tonight was one of them,” Clark said. “That can only benefit us going forward.”

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