Posted On: 11/9/19 6:00 AM
Winning in the playoffs is not always a pretty thing. Especially when the weather gets cold, games can become a battle of wills and a battle of who can protect the ball. It was not a thing of beauty at Hastings High School as the Winona Winhawks, and the Simley Spartans met in the 4A state quarterfinals. There were about as many turnovers as there were touchdowns – in fact – at one point, three straight plays resulted in turnovers. In the end, Winona was the team that took advantage of their opportunities and advanced to US Bank Stadium and the 4A state semi-finals with a 24-14 victory.
The turnover bug hit on the first drive of the game. Winona was putting together a good-looking drive before they fumbled deep in Simley territory.
Winona was not able to take advantage of the turnover as an incomplete pass on fourth, and one gave the ball back to the Spartans.
The Spartans’ offense couldn’t generate much of an attack, but a punt pinned the Winhawks at the ten-yard line. On the next play, Winona would mishandle a handoff and turn the ball over, giving the Spartans a first and goal at the five-yard line.
Simley would take advantage of the short field. Quarterback Shane Prifrel threw a low pass toward the sidelines and running back Hope Adebayo scooped up the low throw for a five-yard touchdown catch and a 7-0 lead.
Neither team could generate much offense, but Simley was able to pin the Winhawks at their own fifteen-yard line. That is where Winona put together the best drive of the game. Winona gambled early in the drive by going for it on a fourth and one on their own 24-yard line. Running back Trevor Pomroy picked up the first down, and it seemed to spark the offense. A few plays later, Winona faced a first and twenty-five. Quarterback Jackson Nibbelink threw – on the run – to wide receiver Spencer Wright for 33 yards. Then Pomroy and Nibbelink picked up chunks of real estate on the ground – the last twelve on a touchdown run by Nibbelink.
After a Simley turnover, the Spartans’ defense stopped the Winhawks on a fourth down. The very next play, Winona defensive lineman Bennett Hefman read an inside screen and came up with the interception. With 53 seconds left in the half, Winona was at the Spartans’ twenty. They were not able to get into the end zone, but the turnover resulted in a 30-yard field goal by Bryan Cassellius on the last play of the first half.
Coming out of the locker room, Winona forced a punt and then hit a big play. Nibbelink’s deep ball connected with Wright on a post pattern for a 69-yard touchdown pass.
Down 17-7, Simley got Adebayo going on the ground, but another turnover did in the Spartans. Winona’s Trenten Langowski picked off a pass at the five-yard line just before it hit the turf.
After the turnover, Winona was on the move, but a fumble would give the ball to Simley. After four straight successful runs by Adebayo, Prifrel kept the ball on the read-option, and he could have walked into the end zone.
With their lead now cut to three, A completion to wide receiver Sam Kanne and runs by Pomroy put the Winhawks in scoring position. Like Simley the drive before, with a series of successful runs by Pomroy, the defense keying on him – allowing Nibbelink plenty of room when he faked the handoff to his running back. His four-yard touchdown run, followed by his two-point conversion run gave Winona a two-score lead with nine minutes to play in the game.
After Simley drove deep into Winona territory, three straight plays resulted in three turnovers. An interception by Winona’s Wright, followed by a Winona fumble and capped off by a fumble recovery by Wright, ultimately gave the ball back to the Winhawks.
Neither team was able to move the ball, and in fact, Simley had a sequence on offense where they gave up back to back sacks and then had a snap go over Prifrel’s head. The three plays resulted in a fourth and 45 yards. After the punt, Winona was able to run out the clock to preserve the victory.
Simley ended its season with a 9-2 record, and Winona (11-0) will play Rocori in the semi-finals on Friday.