By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
It was part Josh Wold, part Isaac Weber, part Jake Russell and part Tyler Jakes.
The four defenders came up with the stop of the night on the final play of the game Friday, preserving Mankato West’s 28-21 victory over Chanhassen in the Section 2AAAAA championship game.
The stop came in overtime after regulation ended in a 21-21 tie. West scored on its first play in the OT when Ryan Schlichte lofted a perfect pass to Will Claussen in the right corner of the end zone for a 10-yard score.
Bill Leitch kicked the PAT for the 28-21 lead.
Chanhassen drove from the 10 to the 1 on just two plays on its ensuing possession. On third down, the West defense held quarterback Ryan McGuire’s keeper attempt to no gain and, on fourth down, the four West defenders stopped running back Nathan Johnson from punching the ball through the left side of the line.
“It feels great,” Jakes said. “I truly believed we could stop them twice at the 1. We just had to get some good penetration and the guys came through.
“It helped to get that first score on offense. That kind of gives you momentum and puts a little pressure on them.”
At the start of the game it was Chanhassen’s defense that did the stopping. West drove to the 1-yard line on its first possession, but was denied on four consecutive downs to keep the game scoreless.
“That’s probably our best passing opportunity because the defense is packing it in when you get that close,” West coach Mark Esch said. “We probably should have tried to throw it but, when you’re at the 1, you think you can pound it in.”
Chanhassen drew first blood with 5:11 left in the half. The Storm capped a 14-play, 65-yard drive with McGuire’s 6-yard TD pass to Jared Lea on the left side of the end zone. Jack Robertson’s kick was good.
West came right back, driving 73 yards in three minutes to tie the game. A 20-yard run by Corey Johnson highlighted the march, which ended when sophomore quarterback Ryan Schlichte found Claussen in the left-corner of the end zone from the 2. Leitch’s kick was good.
The Scarlets took a 14-7 lead at the start of the fourth when Schlichte hit Connor Watts with a 4-yard strike and the PAT made it 14-7.
The Storm answered with a 91-yard drive. Nate Johnson’s 55-yard dash down the middle of the field helped set up a 4th-and-5 at the 28 where McGuire hit Lea in the end zone. The PAT kick was wide left, leaving West with a 14-13 lead.
“We just kept on believing,” Claussen said. “We knew we had to keep pressing, keep being aggressive in the overtime. Ryan did a great job tonight.”
Chanhassen went up 21-14 a short time later as McGuire capped a 74-yard drive with a 12-yard pass to Alex Riley. McGuire kept on the successful conversion.
West mounted its final drive of regulation with only five minutes remaining. The Scarlets marched 66 yards and ended the drive when Schlichte walked into the end zone untouched from the 2. Letich’s PAT tied the game, setting the stage for the overtime victory.
Schlichte finished 24 for 33 for 296 yards and three touchdowns. Trenton Marks was West’s top runner with 83 yards on 12 carries. Connor Watts hauled in 13 passes for 167 yards and one score.
Defensively, Weber and Alex Knutson finished with 17 tackles apiece. West now advances to the Class AAAAA state tournament where it will play Owatonna on either Thursday or Friday at Lakeville North.