Two weeks ago, Jared Grams was competing with sophomore Jacob Eggert to be Mankato East’s starting quarterback, but last week at a scrimmage, Eggert injured his knee, leaving Grams to start the season-opener.
“Right away, it kind of hit me that I was starting my first game,” the junior said. “But after we started playing, football is football. It’s something we’ve been doing all our lives.
“I felt like I kind of owed all my teammates because we worked so hard over the summer. I think we have a chance to have one of the best seasons we’ve had in a while.”
Grams threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns, completing 11 of 18 passes, to lead the Cougars to a 27-7 victory over Kasson-Mantorville in a Big Southeast District football game Friday at Wolverton Field. The Cougars made enough adjustments, offensively and defensively, to outscore the KoMets 20-0 in the second half.
“(Grams) played well,” East coach Eric Davis said. “It was our plan to have both of them play. They’ve both done a good job.
“They kind of dared us to run tonight, and we have some receivers that can make big plays. We want to give them some chances. And the defense really played well.”
Kasson-Mantorville scored late in the second quarter as Jakob Aarsvold ran around the left end for 39 yards with 1:25 remaining before halftime.
On the ensuing kickoff, Carter Dahl returned it to near midfield, and on the first play, Dahl ran a reverse for 32 yards. The tying score came on a 15-yard pass from Jared Grams to Joich Gong and a PAT by Muse Abdi.
“That really changed how everyone was feeling (at halftime),” Grams said. “They had just made a big play, so it was up to our offense to get it back. That was a good drive, and we connected (on the pass).”
A 30-yard pass from Grams to Jax Madson started East’s first possession of the third quarter, and Leslie Miller capped the three-play drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. Later in the third quarter, on fourth-and-4 at Kasson-Mantorville’s 38, Grams found Grant Hermer on a wheel route, and Hermer raced into the end zone for the score.
“I was kicking myself because we should have run that play on the fourth-and-goal (on the previous drive),” Davis said. “Jax was getting a lot of attention (from the defense), and we had a play that we liked.”
The clinching score came on an 11-play drive in the fourth quarter, with Miller scoring on a fourth-down play from the 3.
The Cougars finished with 317 yards of offense, with Miller gaining 54 yards on 12 carries. Kasson-Mantorville, which rushed for 147 yards in the first half, gained only 63 yards on 17 carries. The KoMets only passed for 10 yards.
“We made some changes up front,” Davis said. “We knew they only had the one big play, so we gave them some different looks. They had some trouble when they got behind the sticks, and we put them in quite a few second-and-longs.”
The Cougars have now won their season-opener in four of the last five seasons but have lost all four times in Week 2.
“Typically, you make your most improvement between Week 1 and Week 2,” Davis said. “But sometimes, you get comfortable with a victory. We have a lot of things that we can do better.”
East plays at Austin on Friday.
“We’re trying to change the mindset,” Grams said. Our seniors are special players, and we want to make sure everyone is into it. I think we can win a lot of games.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.