An unlikely source provided an instant spark for St. Pat’s as the Irish notched their first win of the season with a 21-7 victory over Gibbon on Friday.
With senior running back Charlie Gale sidelined after being injured last week against Grand Island Central Catholic, the Irish had to shuffle their lineup a bit. One of those changes came in the form of freshman Will Moats filling in as the second deep-man on the kickoff team.
Moats made the most of his opportunity.
After Gaven Nutter bobbled the opening kickoff, Moats scooped up the ball, hit the seem right up the middle and ran 85 yards for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead after Alex Davies nailed the extra point.
"That was an awful big play for us, and it set us up with momentum and excitement," St. Pat’s head coach Kevin Dodson said. "I think that was only his second rep at that position, so I was happy to see him have success. Our guys did a really nice job blocking to open up some holes on that return."
Special teams continued to be instrumental for St. Pat’s (1-3). Along with the kickoff return touchdown, the Irish got two blocked punts from Justin Schroll and a perfect 3-for-3 night on extra points. That helped the Irish overcome going minus-5 in turnover margin, four of which were fumbles.
"Special teams and field position were huge tonight," Dodson said. "Coach (Brad) Braithwait does a great job week in, week out with that. Special teams are a real bright spot for us right now and they really shined tonight."
Leading 7-0, the Irish defense forced a punt on Gibbon’s first possession. On the ensuing Irish possession, senior quarterback Dolan Branch kept the ball on 3rd-and-1 and ran 21 yards for a touchdown. Branch finished the night with eight carries for 29 yards and one touchdown on the ground and was 1-for-3 passing for five yards and an interception.
Schroll’s first of two blocked punts came with just under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, giving the Irish the ball at the Gibbon (1-3) 44-yard line. St. Pat’s drove to the 20 and stalled, where a 38-yard field goal attempt missed from Davies, keeping the score at 14-0.
Early in the third quarter, Schroll struck again, this time blocking the punt to give his team the ball at the Gibbon 6-yard line. Three plays later, Nutter found the end zone from three yards out to give the Irish a 21-0 lead. Nutter carried the ball 20 times for 75 yards, one touchdown and two fumbles.
Defensively, the Irish were stout all evening, allowing only 152 total yards from Gibbon’s offense, 148 of which came on the ground from running back Sean Hampton, who carried it 30 times. Hampton was responsible for Gibbon’s only score, an 80-yard rushing touchdown midway through the third quarter on somewhat of a fluky play.
"I thought defensively, we really played well, especially in the first half," Dodson said. "(Gibbon) just couldn’t get anything going, and even on the 80-yard (touchdown run), (Hampton) fumbled it, but the ball bounced right back up into his hands. Any time you have that little hesitation against a kid of (Hampton’s) caliber and athleticism, you see what he can do."
With St. Pat’s leading 21-7 late in the fourth quarter, Charles Aufdenkamp slammed up the middle for a yard on 4th-and-1 to essentially put the game away. The senior workhorse led the Irish on the ground, gaining 95 yards on 17 attempts with one fumble.
St. Pat’s finished with 205 total yards, 200 on the ground.
Up next is the renewal of an old-school Lincoln County rivalry when the Irish take the short trip to Hershey (1-3) where new Panthers head coach Greg Welch and company await.
"It’s a district game number one, and this is like a new season for us," Dodson said. "Of course, we’re playing our neighbors to the west and that’s always traditionally been a great football game. I know coach Welch is excited about his team and it’ll be a good challenge for us."
Gibbon (1-3) 0 0 7 0—7
St. Pat’s (1-3) 14 0 7 0—21
S: Will Moats 85 kick return (Alex Davies PAT)
S: Dolan Branch 21 run (Davies PAT)
S: Gaven Nutter 3 run (Davies PAT)
G: Sean Hampton 80 run (Carlos Tamayo PAT)