As has been the case for much of the season, the Rapid City Stevens football team showed Friday night that it could move the football.
As has been the case all year, the Raiders also showed they can’t turn the football over and expect to be in the game in the fourth quarter.
Stevens had three turnovers and a blocked punt which was more than enough for No. 2 ranked Sioux Falls Lincoln, as the Patriots stopped Stevens 50-21 on Dunham Field at O’Harra Stadium.
“They (Lincoln) do a good job, they have a very good football team. That’s why they’ve won six or seven games now,” Stevens coach Steve Svendsen said. “They have a very good offensive line, defensive line. That is a team we can’t make mistakes against.”
The Raiders mistakes, which also included a blocked punt and safety allowed led to 23 points by the Patriots, who are now 7-1 on the season, winners of six straight contests.
“I know that score showed 50-21, but it was a lot closer than that if we don’t turn the football over,” Svendsen said. “I thought our kids gave some great effort tonight, I really did. We are a lot closer than we think we are, we just can’t turn the ball over. That is our killer. We just do it at the most inopportune times. It kills the drive, kills the momentum. We have to find a way to not do that. We’re not that good of a team to turn the football over.”
Lincoln led 9-7 after the first quarter on a 9-yard TD run by Isaiah Robinson and a safety when Stevens quarterback Colton Hartford was called for intentional grounding while in the end zone.
The Raiders got on the board when wideout Michael Norman pounced on a fumble by Hartford in the end zone after Hartford had a spectacular run of 28 yards to the 1-yard line.
Lincoln would take a 23-7 lead when quarterback Tommy Thompson found Hunter Merkley on a 16-yard TD pass, and after Hartford lost a fumble after another nice run, added another score an 8-yard TD pass from Thompson to Leo Kayee.
It took the Raiders just one play to get right back in the game when Hartford found a wide open Bridger Nesbit down the right sidelines for a big 73-yard touchdown reception.
It was a game again until the Pats came right back with a 7-yard TD run by Thompson — one play after Payton Hughes picked off Hartford — and a 27-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to Elliott Hackett.
Suddenly, it’s a comfortable 36-13 lead for Lincoln, a lead it took into the locker room at halftime.
”That really helped us get calmed down and stuff,” Lincoln coach Jared Fredenburg said of those two late scores. “You never know with the long bus trip out, you just never know how you are going to respond. It was really nice to see them respond. When they had that quick touchdown, we responded and came back. That’s been our guys all year. When their backs are against the wall, they are pretty good.”
The final few minutes of the second quarter proved to be a killer, according to Svendsen.
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“I thought the last three or four minutes in the first half we let down a little bit,” he said. “We had the blocked punt and then we gave up the big score for them, and we had the pic. It was a culmination of everything that happened. If we can eliminate those things, we’re a good football team. We have to find a way to take care of those turnovers.”
Lincoln began to pour it on with a 4-yard TD run by Thompson three minutes into the third.
Hartford found Nesbit again on a one-play scoring drive, this time from 42 yards out to make it 43-21. On the possession prior for the Raiders, they had a 31-yard TD pass from Hartford to Norman nullified on a holding penalty. They were forced to punt on that series.
Robinson closed the scoring for Lincoln on a 48-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds until the end of the third period.
“Our defense was on the field for a long time, too,” Svendsen said. “We have a quick score and our defense was on the field again. We gave up a couple of big pays, but I thought for the most part we made then snap the ball.”
Thompson finished the game 20-of-30 passing for 219 yards and three scores. He was 16-of-25 for 186 yards and the three TDS in the first half.
Fredenburg said the Lincoln coaches saw early that they could use their passing game to take advantage of some mismatches.
“We really want to run it first, but they saw some things upstairs that we could take advantage of. And we hit a couple,” he said.
The Patriots, who unofficially finished with 413 yards of offense, also got 92 yards on the ground by Robinson and another 60 by Kayee.
Fredenburg said that the Raiders look better than a three-win team, so they had to make sure they didn’t get in a trap game, especially coming off a close win over a good Harrisburg squad last week.
“We were really trying to protect against a huge exhale — the trip coming out and things being out of kilter. Stevens has some playmakers, man, their wideouts are really good,” he said. “We just didn’t want to come and lay an egg; we had to play well. It’s the end of the year, so you have to start dialing it in.”
Hartford finished 10-of-17 passing for 234 yards and the two long touchdowns to Nesbit, who caught passes for 137 yards. Phillip Walls came off the bench in the fourth quarter and finished with 48 yards rushing, while Uriah Glynn added 46 yards.
“We just have to get better. We’re in the dance, we have to find a way to play in the playoffs,” Svendsen said. “That’s been our goal all along; be competitive and be in position to make a playoff run. We’re there, we just have to get ourselves better once we get there.”
The Raiders, 3-5, will be at Brandon Valley Thursday before beginning the postseason.