By PATRICK SLACK
To call it a game of inches wouldn’t do it justice.
Holdingford and BOLD dealt and withstood countless crunching blows throughout Thursday’s Class AA state quarterfinal football clash at St. Cloud State University.
A pair of regulation touchdowns: check.
Dueling fourth-down attempts in the first overtime: converted.
Potential decisive extra-point attempts: thwarted.
Costly penalties overcome: a few of those too.
Only after BOLD jarred a near touchdown pass loose in the end zone in the second overtime did the Warriors have a clear path to victory, which they capitalized on with a 19-yard field goal to come away with a gut-wrenching 23-20 victory.
The game was billed as a battle between teams with similar run-first offenses and stingy defenses, each riding 10-game winning streaks, with BOLD ranked fourth in the state.
That proved to be exceedingly prescient from the start.
Each team came up with a pair of defensive stops to open the contest, then the Huskers were forced into a third-and-long situation following a false start.
Instead of a likely run call, Holdingford took to the air, with junior quarterback Mitch Messman hitting senior Cody Schwinghammer in stride for a 61-yard touchdown completion.
Senior Kyle Kolstad kicked the extra point and Holdingford was ahead 7-0 with 39 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Sophomore Matt Messman made a touchdown-saving tackle on the ensuing kickoff return, but BOLD wouldn’t be denied for long, evening the score with 8:53 to play in the second quarter.
BOLD stuffed the Huskers for a three-and-out, then came up with its second score in three minutes to seize a 14-7 advantage.
Holdingford’s defense settled in from that point on, keeping the Huskers within one possession into the second half.
After forcing a punt, the Huskers put together a sustained drive to start the third quarter, working the ball deep into BOLD territory after senior Jon Skwira picked up a 15-yard gain on fourth-and-3.
With the ball on the nine, Skwira took the hand off and appeared to be stopped around the five.
However, with the help of his linemen pushing the pile, he knifed through the BOLD defensive front, twisted, turned and stretched the ball across the plane of the goal line, tying the score with 4:39 left in the third quarter.
BOLD moved the ball to the Holdingford 44 but had to punt near the end of the third quarter, opening the door for the Huskers to take the lead at the start of the fourth.
Holdingford methodically took the ball into the BOLD red zone, but an interception in the corner of the end zone preserved the 14-14 tie for the Warriors.
BOLD once again came up empty on offense, but Holdingford turned the ball over on downs with less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter at the BOLD 27, setting up overtime.
Starting with the ball at the 10, BOLD gained six yards on third-and-goal to set up fourth down and less than a yard to go.
Coming out of a time out, the Warriors plowed the ball up the middle to go ahead 20-14, but missed the following point after try.
On its turn with the ball, Holdingford was stopped for no gain on first down, then was flagged for a personal foul to make it second-and-25.
Senior Taylor Milbrandt came down with a leaping 24-yard reception to put the Huskers on the doorstep at the 1-yard line, but a quarterback sneak off of a quick snap was stuffed for no gain.
Nonetheless, just like BOLD did, Holdingford converted on fourth down, with Messman slipping under the BOLD defense and into the end zone to tie the score.
However, the potential game-winning extra point missed wide right, giving BOLD new life and setting up another extra period.
Starting on offense in the second overtime, Holdingford lost five yards on a fumbled exchange on first down, then saw a near touchdown pass knocked free in the air on second down.
Two more incomplete passes followed, to give the ball to BOLD.
The Warriors ran three consecutive times to move the ball to the 2, then overcame a low snap to sink the game-winning field goal.