By Dale Miller
Kytan Fyfe wasn’t about to lose what was potentially his final game at Memorial Stadium.
After Millard North scored twice in a span of 2:11 to take a late six-point lead, Fyfe led Grand Island Senior High to a pair of touchdowns 28 seconds apart.
That allowed the Islanders to pick up a 31-20 thriller over the Mustangs in their last home game of the regular season Friday.
“If it’s the last game we play, that’s how we want to go out on our home field,” Fyfe said. “It was a gut check at the end, but there’s no one I’d rather do it with than these teammates right here.”
The senior quarterback played a huge part in that win. He piled up 189 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries, was 13-for-21 passing for 206 yards with two touchdowns and added a TD receiving.
“His will to win is unbelievable as well as the rest of these seniors,” Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin said. “I’m very, very proud of these guys and all the hard work they put in to get to this point where now we’re still alive for a playoff goal.
“Enjoy this one tonight and then get on the drawing board and start planning for next week.”
It looked like Grand Island (4-3) would celebrate a defensive win when Braxton Mendez kicked a 24-yard field goal to give the Islanders a 17-7 lead with 9:21 left.
Who would have imagined that the teams would then combine for 27 points over the final 4:02.
Millard North (1-6) got back into the game when Brian Petry’s 2-yard touchdown capped off a 15-play, 83-yard drive with 4:02 remaining.
The Mustangs then recovered on onside kick before momentum really swung back-and-forth when the teams traded turnovers.
Fyfe couldn’t handle a snap, and Millard North recovered on the G.I. 24-yard line. That set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Charlie Quaintance to Isaiah McMorris, who took a short toss and then worked his way up the right sideline into the end zone.
The PAT kick missed, so Millard North led 20-14 with 1:51 to go.
“After I fumbled that snap, I knew we were going to get the ball back and we had to score,” Fyfe said. “I wasn’t going to lose on senior night like that.”
He was right.
The next possession started with Fyfe picking up 44 yards and setting up a 12-yard go-ahead pass to tight end Cole Bauer with 1:21 remaining.
Bauer finished with a game-high seven receptions for 82 yards.
“Cole is so dependable and so clutch,” Tomlin said. “He’s also our long-snapper and money in the bank. He’s really dependable and the unseen thing is he’s an exceptional blocker. What a great player.”
The Islanders weren’t done. After the defense came through by recovering a fumble, Fyfe took the next snap 32 yards for an insurance score with 53 seconds remaining. That was only his third longest run of the game.
“Our line created big holes,” Fyfe said. “Our lead blockers — Ariel (Hernandez) and Caleb Richardson — they did a great job and they got me in space. I just ran.”
It was a wild final four minutes.
“It was a rodeo for sure,” Tomlin said. “Our kids just won’t relent. I’m really proud of them, and seniors stepped to the forefront on senior night.
“Millard North is a really good football team and hard to defend. I think for the most part we defended them fairly well. There were a couple drives where they were picking on the side where we were hurt, so they knew where to run. But our guys responded with some takeaways, with some huge turnovers there, and offensively we did enough at clutch times to make it happen.”
After Millard North took the lead, Tomlin said the confidence from a late game-winning drive against Fremont earlier this season took effect.
“That’s where Fremont comes back,” he said. “There was 1:48 on the clock, and they like to play a lot of man coverage. We knew there were going to be some opportunities there. They set out to get after it, and they got it done.
“I don’t think for a second they didn’t think they’d get a shot at the end zone at least or some good looks. They did a wonderful job.”
Neither offense had much success early on with the teams combining for six punts and three first downs in the first quarter. Neither team punted again after that.
The offenses started moving the ball in the second quarter with the Islanders driving 69 yards thanks to three passes that added up to 83 yards.
The final one saw Fyfe on the receiving end of a touchdown pass for once, and the usual quarterback made an 18-yard reception of a Cohen Evans toss with 11:01 left in the half.
“It feels good,” said Fyfe, who also had a touchdown catch against Kearney. We’ve been working on that all week in practice.”
Millard North answered, going 81 yard in eight plays with Petry capping it off with an 4-yard score one play after he broke lose for 32 yards on third-and-2.
Backed up on their own 9 late in the half, the Islanders appeared content to run down the clock. That changed after Fyfe found a hole, reversed past a defender and then saw open field for a 76-yard run to the Mustang 15 with 21 seconds left.
Grand Island took its final timeout after a Herndendez rush gained three yards, but Evans was then tackled after a 4-yard gain with the Islanders unable to spike the ball before the half ran out.
The Islanders took a 14-7 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 4-yard pass from Fyfe to Dylan Sextro before Mendez added his field goal 2:34 later.
Tomlin said gutsy performances from players battling through injuries — running back/linebacker Ayden McDermott, linebacker Jace Chrisman and linebacker Alex Dzingle — helped push the team towards the win.
Grand Island now owns back-to-back victories for the first time this season and keeps its playoff hopes alive heading into yet another key district game next week at Norfolk.
“We’re peaking at the right time and continuing to get better each game,” Fyfe said. “No doubt, we have to win out. I think we have a good opportunity coming up with Norfolk and (Omaha) Bryan. Norfolk is a good team with a good coach, but I know what we are capable of doing.”