East Ridge football: Raptors edge Hastings to go to 3-2Behind 206 yards and two touchdowns by junior running back Nick Leach, the East Ridge football team overcame three fumbles and a pesky Hastings squad to win a big conference game with postseason implications, 34-31, on Homecoming night in Hastings.
By: Patrick Johnson, sports editor, South Washington County Bulletin
The Raptors weren’t perfect on Friday, but Nick Leach made it so they didn’t have to be.
Behind 206 yards and two touchdowns by the junior running back, the East Ridge football team overcame three fumbles and a pesky Hastings squad to win a big Suburban East Conference game with postseason implications, 34-31, on Homecoming night in Hastings.
“I got a little bit greyer and aged a few years here, but it was a great football game,” East Ridge head coach Mike Pendino said. “Our kids persevered and played until the final whistle – and it took to the final whistle.”
Leach’s second touchdown of the night – a 27 yarder – gave East Ridge (3-2; 3-2 SEC) a 34-24 lead with only 5:02 remaining in the game. However, as it has in its past three games, Hastings made the game interesting until the very end. The Raiders (2-3; 2-3 SEC) scored a touchdown with 2:17 remaining to cut their deficit to 34-31. Hastings then recovered the ensuing onside kick, however, East Ridge was given possession of the ball after an illegal-touch penalty was called on Hastings. The Raptors were then able to run out the clock – behind key first-down runs by Leach and freshman quarterback Seth Green.
“It’s a team effort,” Leach said. “There’s no ‘I’ in team, the offense played great, the defense came through and we got the W.”
Leach’s performance came on the heels of missing three days of school with an illness. Leach said he still wasn’t 100 percent for the game.
“I’m not feeling too hot, but you have to push through it,” Leach said. “It feels great to win though. You got to do what you got to do. The more I got hit the better I felt.”
Pendino said he liked what he saw from his running back this week.
“I told him he should be sick every week if he’s going to play like that, man,” Pendino said.
The game was Hastings’ fourth straight decided by less than one score. Hastings was coming off back-to-back overtime wins and a near comeback in a 33-26 loss to Woodbury four weeks ago.
“They’re turning into a very good football team,” Pendino said. “The two brothers are just unbelievable. The chemistry that they have – I don’t even know if he sees him when he throws the ball – he just throws it and he’s there. It’s unbelievable.”
The win put East Ridge at 1-0 against section opponents this year. Both East Ridge and Hastings play in Section 5AAAAA, along with St. Thomas Academy, Simley, Tartan and Henry Sibley. It was East Ridge’s second-consecutive victory over the Raiders. East Ridge ended Hastings’ season last year with a 33-14 loss in Hastings in the opening round of the playoffs.
“This was a huge game for us,” Pendino said.
Things looked good for East Ridge early in the contest. After holding Hastings to a three-and-out on the Raiders’ first possession, the Raptors marched down the field with a nine-play drive and made it a 7-0 game on a 1-yard touchdown by Leach with 7:29 remaining in the first quarter.
Hastings, however, scored three straight times – two touchdowns and a field goal – to take a 16-7 lead with just over three minutes left in the first half.
But, starting at its own 33-yard line with 3:30 on the clock, East Ridge put together a key eight-play drive, capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass from Green to junior tight end George Behr. The score made it a 16-14 game with 29 seconds left in the half after the extra point by kicker Alec Tostenrud was good.
The Raptors then started out the second half with a bang.
On the first play of the second half, Green hit junior receiver Xavier Cole in stride for a 62-yard touchdown, giving the Raptors a 21-16 lead.
After Hastings took a 24-21 lead with a touchdown and a two-point conversion, East Ridge struck back – and took the lead for good.
Following the Raiders’ touchdown, East Ridge senior Keith Durham returned the ensuing kickoff to the 50-yard line. Six plays later, the Raptors were in the end zone once again.
On third-and-11, Green found Behr once again on a 12-yard strike to make it a 28-24 game. And East Ridge never looked back.
Pedino gave a lot of credit to his offensive line for the win. East Ridge controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the game.
“The difference is having those five big guys up front,” he said. “They did a few things to throw us off, but we got the kids squared away at halftime. Those five guys played their butts off. They’re very good players.”
Leach praised his blockers as well.
“The line played great,” he said. “I was loving it. I wouldn’t want to run behind any other line.”
In addition to Leach, Green completed 12 passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns, Behr caught four passes for 27 yards and two touchdowns and sophomore defensive back Sam Cobbs had an interception and made a key play on special teams, recovering the ball on a kickoff before the Hastings return team touched it.
Next week is another big one for East Ridge. The Raptors will play host to Stillwater on Friday in Woodbury. The seventh-ranked Ponies beat fourth-ranked Mounds View 17-14 Friday to create a four-way tie for first place in the SEC at 4-1.
“We’re young, we’re playing great and we’re getting more experience,” Leach said. “It’s nothing but up from here.”