With Pillager’s starting quarterback watching from the sideline because of illness Friday, somebody had to rise to the occasion.
Fortunately for the Huskies it wasn’t just one player but a handful who filled in for their sick teammate, leading to a 23-14 North Star Conference victory over the Prairie View Nighthawks.
“The kids played hard,” said Pillager head coach Lowell Scearcy. “I was a little worried there in the third quarter because I thought (Prairie Valley’s) size was starting to wear on us. Then we came up with a couple good plays. We made a couple of stops on the pass, which I was worried about. When we lost our quarterback, we also lost our safety. But every time a guy doesn’t play another kid gets a chance and sometimes you find somebody and you go, ‘Wow.’”
Two-year starter Conner Uselman was crowned homecoming king earlier in the week for Pillager. Then on Friday he was hit by mononucleosis. That pushed Uselman’s favorite receiving target Ryder Hunstad behind center.
Hunstad connected on 5-of-8 passing for 87 yards and a touchdown. Hunstad’s main target Friday was Cherokee DeLeon, who caught four balls for 70 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown that gave Pillager a 20-14 edge in the fourth quarter.
DeLeon also added a 21-yard field goal with 1:07 left in the game for insurance.
“That last drive was very emotional,” said Pillager’s Dezmond Berndt. “If we could get the touchdown we were going to do it, but we were going to try to keep the ball in the middle of the field between the hashmarks. If nothing else then we could at least try a field goal.”
It was Pillager’s running game that carried the offensive load. Both Berndt and Nick Ruhl carried the ball 20 times. Berndt gained 127 yards and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 14 yard burst up the middle. Ruhl finished with 74 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave Pillage a 14-6 edge at the time.
“It was hard, but I think we’re mentally tough enough were we can switch somebody else into the lineup and we’re not hurt too bad,” said Berndt. “We’re a mental team and we get things done.”
Pillager’s defense also came up big for most of the game. The Huskies held the Nighthawks to just seven rushing yards in the first half. Prairie Valley did gain 73 yards in the air. Quarterback Skyler Meiners found Dominick Bailey for the Nighthawks only score of the first half.
Meiners connected with Grant Yohnke in the third quarter from 10 yards out to tie the score at 14-14. Yohnke hauled in seven catches for 79 yards.
Quentin Uran was a beast at the linebacker position for the Nighthawks and started to get their ground game going in the second half as he carried the ball 13 times for 65 yards, but a Uran fumble recovered by Pillager’s Brian Mason set up DeLeon’s field goal and another fumble recovery by Dillan Eischeld sealed Pillager’s victory.
“(Uran) was a good player, I’m not going to lie,” said Berndt. “He was a really good player. It was fun playing against him. He was a hard guy to tackle, but it was fun to go up against him.”
It’s the second straight victory for Pillager, who opened the season 0-3.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” said Scearcy. “We’ve had a lot of different things happen these last couple of weeks and they stepped up. A lot of kids had to play the whole game that haven’t played much before. It was good to see them do well.”
Prairie Valley 0 6 8 0 - 14
Pillager 7 0 7 9 - 23
Pill-Dezmond Berndt 14 run (Cherokee DeLeon kick) 6:10
PV-Dominick Bailey 12 pass from Skyler Meiners (pass failed) 4:34
Pill-Nick Ruhl 14 run (DeLeon kick) 7:09
EV-Grant Yohnke 10 pass from Meiners (Yohnke pass from Meiners) 1:13
Pill-DeLeon 17 pass from Ryder Hunstad (kick failed) 9:43
Pill-DeLeon 21 field goal 1:07
Rushes-yards: Pill 46-199, PV 27-70
Pass comp-att-int-yds: Pill 5-8-1-87, PV 10-22-0-131
Total offense: Pill 54-286, PV 49-201
Rushing: Pill-Dezmond Berndt 20-125, Nick Ruhl 20-74, Chris Gjovik 4-4, team 2-(-4), PV-Zach Olson 6-8, Skyler Meiners 6-0, Quentin Uran 13-65, Derek Pratt 1-1, Team 1-(-4)
Passing: Pill-Ryder Hunstad 5-8-87, PV-Meiners 10-22-131
Receiving: Pill-Cherokee DeLeon 4-70, Berndt 1-17, PV-Grant Yohnke 7-79, Uran 1-35, Dominick Bailey 2-18