SUTHERLAND — It had been since 2009 that Sutherland last hosted a playoff football game. That was also the last time the Sailors were victorious in the postseason after four consecutive first-round exits from 2013-16.
It was worth the wait.
Despite trailing 26-8 at halftime and 34-14 midway through the third quarter, the eighth-seeded Sailors stormed back for a 40-34 victory over ninth-seeded Amherst on Thursday in the first round of the Class D1 playoffs.
“The kids have worked for this and they just stayed calm and really showed some grit. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” first-year Sutherland head coach Brendan Geier said.
Clinging to a six-point lead, Sutherland’s defense held the fort twice in the final two minutes.
First, Sutherland senior Will White intercepted Amherst quarterback Kalon Rohde — White’s second of the game — on the Sailor 21-yard line. On the very next play, a Sutherland fumble was recovered by Amherst’s Deric John, who returned the ball the Sailor 9-yard line. After shorts gains on the first three downs, the Broncos (3-6) were stuffed on a run/pass option play, led by Sutherland senior Bennett Floyd.
Sutherland took over with 1 minute, 38 seconds remaining, but eventually had to punt after going three-and-out.
Again, the Sailors defense held, preserving the victory and ending the playoff drought to the delight of a packed house in Sutherland.
“This is great for the community,” Geier said. “I like to think our football team embodies what Sutherland is about. (That’s) hard work, we’re not flashy, we don’t go around and do all these different things, we just work hard and that’s what we take pride in. I think that’s what our community is about and for me personally, that’s what had been enjoyable about teaching and coaching (in Sutherland).”
Junior running back Connor Floyd got things started on the right note for Sutherland (7-2), scoring on the Sailors’ third play from scrimmage, shedding the initial tackle, then rumbling 60 yards for a touchdown.
Then things flipped.
Amherst rattled off 26-unanswered points, aided by three Sutherland turnovers and two encroachment penalties on fourth-down punting situations.
Connor Floyd began the second half the way he started the game — with a rushing touchdown — but Amherst answered on the next drive, scoring a touchdown on a drive in which Rohde went 5-of-5 passing. At the 5:55 mark of the third quarter, Amherst led 34-14 and Sutherland’s season was on the brink.
Then things flipped. Again.
Sutherland quarterback Andrew Dowse hooked up with Noah Holm for a 45-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-17, trimming the lead to 34-20 at 1:41 on the clock in the third.
After an Amherst three-and-out, Connor Floyd returned the ball to the Amherst 17-yard line. Bennett Floyd toted it three yards up the gut to open the fourth quarter and make it a one-score game at 34-26.
White’s second pick led to another Connor Floyd rushing score, followed by him running in the 2-point conversion, tying the game 34-34 with 10:48 remaining.
After the Sailors defense again forced a punting situation, freshman Maverick Naughtin recovered a fumble after an apperant fake punt by Amherst, which tried unsuccessfully to snap the ball to the up-man.
That led to the fourth and final touchdown for Connor Floyd, followed by the two defensive stops and the win.
“Hats off to Amherst,” Geier said. “Through the first three quarters, I felt like anytime we got something going, they answered right away. They’re well coached, a heck of a team and that was a great battle.”
Sutherland advances to play No. 1 seed Burwell (9-0) in the second round on Wednesday.
Amherst (3-6) 6 20 8 0—34
Sutherland (7-2) 8 0 12 20—40
S: Connor Floyd 60 run (2-point good)
A: Dominic Espersen 20 run (2-point no good)
A: Coleton Vavra 19 from Kalon Rhode (2-point good)
A: Jarin Potts interception return (2-point no good)
A: Rhode 1 run (2-point no good)
S: Floyd 25 run (2-point no good)
A: Espersen 3 run (2-point good)
S: Noah Holm 45 from Andrew Dowse (2-point no good)
S: Bennett Floyd 3 run (2-point no good)
S: Connor Floyd 5 run (2-point good)
S: Connor Floyd 3 run (2-point no good)