Mankato West had all the momentum, having scored a pair of second-half touchdowns to pull within 22-21 with 1:41 remaining in the game.

For West coach Rick Sutton, it was an automatic decision to go for the two-point conversion, trying to get the victory instead of play for the tie and force overtime.

“It was a no-brainer,” he said. Every single time, every time.”

West’s two-point conversion failed, as did a final possession, and Mankato East held on for the one-point Big Nine Conference victory Friday in front of about 4,5000 fans at Blakeslee Stadium. It’s the closest game in the 33-year history of the series since East’s 21-20 victory in 1996.

For the potential game winning conversion, quarterback Dan Dobson tried a draw, but the play was stuffed at the about the 2.

“We thought we could spread them out and get some people out of the box,” Sutton said. “Dan’s been running the ball pretty well. It was a good call, we just didn’t execute it as well as we needed to.”

East coach Eric Davis agreed with Sutton’s gamble.

“If you’re the underdog and you have the momentum, you take a shot right there,” Davis said.

Following the touchdown, West tried an onside kick and recovered the ball at their own 47. After a sack, Dobson completed a 14-yard pass to Chase Brown, setting up and fourth-and-3. Dobson went with a quick pass to Brown on the fourth down, but the East defense converged quickly. An officials’ measurement showed that West came up one foot short, allowing East, which claimed the Jug for the third straight year, to run out the clock.

“We were a little tense all night,” Davis said. “We talked every day that everybody around town was telling our guys that we should win, and that starts to wear on you. You start playing not to lose instead of playing to win.”

West opened the scoring with 1:15 to play in the first quarter when Dobson hit Brown with a 30-yard touchdown pass. Alex Green’s PAT made it 7-0.

East regained momentum when Eric Evans blocked a punt, which Jon Boyd nearly recovered in the end zone. However, West’s Matt Daley hustled back to fall on the ball, making it a safety instead of a touchdown.

Boyd atoned by catching a 39-yard pass from Chris Ward, and Ward passed to Landon Benson for the two-point conversion and a 10-7 lead. Evans scored on a 3-yard run midway through the second quarter that made it 16-7 at halftime.

East opened the second half with Boyd’s 19-yard touchdown run to put his team up 22-7.

“I think everybody thought we had it wrapped up (tonight) at halftime, and we let down,” Boyd said. “(West) fought hard to the end, and we didn’t.”

West went to a five-receiver set in the second half, and Dobson drove the team 74 yards in five plays, with Dobson finding Tim Petersen, who made a diving catch to complete the 20-yard scoring play. Dobson passed to Marc Jennings for the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 22-15 late in the third quarter.

J.J. Cattrysse made an interception and return that gave West the ball at East’s 42 with 4:57 to play in the game. The Scarlets used 12 plays to score, converting twice on fourth down to set up Dobson’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Henke and pulling West within 22-21.

However, the quarterback draw for the two-point conversion was stopped short.

“There’s only so much you can do against (the spread formation),” Davis said. “We tried to change things up, rushing sometimes and covering sometimes. Dobson did a great job, and the receivers made some great plays.”

Dobson was 11 of 20 passing in the second half for 155 yards, and he finished with 16 completions in 29 attempts for 241 yards. Petersen had five receptions for 62 yards, Brown caught four for 55 yards, and Henke had three catches for 50 yards. West had 275 yards of total offense.

East had 335 yards, 207 of which came in the first half. The Cougars rushed for 247 yards, with Ward gaining 116 on 12 carries. He also completed 4 of 14 passes for 88 yards.

East (6-1), ranked sixth in Class 4A, finishes the regular season with a road game against Albert Lea. With a victory, the Cougars will end up in a second-place tie in the Big Nine and the No. 1 seed in Section 2AAAA.

West (1-6) plays at Winona Wednesday, and a victory could push the Scarlets up to the fourth seed for the playoffs, which would mean a home game in the first round.

“I thought we improved tonight,” Dobson said. “We showed we can play with anybody, I think.”

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