FALLS CITY — Big plays and missed opportunities cost fifth-seeded Humphrey St. Francis in a loss Wednesday to No. 4 Falls City Sacred Heart.
By the time the Flyers got rolling, it was too late as the Irish held on for a 34-30 win in the second round of the Class D-2 playoffs.
Trevor Pfeifer found Riley Jarosz for a 7-yard touchdown with less than a minute remaining to bring St. Francis within one score, but the Irish recovered the ensuring onside kick to ice the game.
“We’re really disappointed with the loss, but I’m extremely proud of the effort of the team and the fact we didn’t quit,” St. Francis head coach Eric Kessler said. “It’s very gratifying to see the kids compete like that.”
The Flyers went on a furious fourth-quarter rally, scoring three times in the final 12 minutes.
The Irish (9-1) led 12-0 at halftime on a pair of long touchdowns. Christian Harring, who ran for 106 yards, scored on a 61-yard run on Sacred Heart’s first offensive play to put the Irish up 6-0. Quarterback Drew Bippes called his own number in the second quarter and scored from 31 yards out to double the lead.
Sacred Heart finished the game with seven plays of 20 yards or more and three TDs of 30 yards or longer.
St. Francis moved the ball in the first half, driving into Sacred Heart territory on four of its five first-half possessions, but came away with zero points.
“We were able to move the ball, but space gets a little tighter down in the red zone and they raised up their intensity level and got stops,” Kessler said. “That’s big in tight games and to not get those in was the key.”
It was a different story in the second half as the Flyers continued to move the ball, but capitalized with four TDs in the final two quarters.
The defensive slugfest in the first half gave way to a shootout in the second.
After Sacred Heart took the second-half kickoff right down the field to increase its lead to 20-0, St. Francis finally broke through.
Pfeifer hit Pierce Eisenmenger for a 30-yard score to make it 26-6.
A long return on the ensuing kickoff from Jake Hoy set Sacred Heart up for the answer as Bippes found Hoy for a 17-yard score to stretch the lead back to 20.
Taylor Wemhoff set up Jarrett Weidner’s short TD run with a 48-yard catch as St. Francis cut the deficit to 26-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Weidner rushed for 101 hard-fought yards in the game.
“Jarrett runs hard. He’s a grinder,” Kessler said.
Bippes, who accounted for 264 total yards, hit Hoy for a 32-yard TD just over a minute later to give Sacred Heart a seemingly safe three-score lead.
Hoy finished the game with three catches for 90 yards and two TDs.
But St. Francis wasn’t ready to quit on its season.
“We put it on the line and gave ourselves a chance,” Kessler said.
Pfeifer found Eisenmenger for a short TD with six minutes to play, then the Flyers got a goal-line stand with less than three minutes left in the game to give themselves an opportunity at a miracle comeback.
Pfeifer, just a sophomore, led the Flyers’ charge, throwing for 232 yards and three TDs and adding 87 yards on the ground.
“Trevor’s a very good player,” Kessler said. “He’s played a lot of football for us and is wise beyond his years.”
Jarosz caught five passes for 63 yards and a score and Eisenmenger also had five grabs, turning them into 67 yards and two TDs.
St. Francis finishes the season at 8-2, a great record for most teams, but the Flyers expect to be deep in the playoffs every year.
“It’s a double-edge sword when you have such high expectations. It was a tough matchup against one of the best teams in the state,” Kessler said. “I’m really proud of our seniors and they carried on the St. Francis tradition and showed what we’re about.”