OMAHA — The swinging gate helped Grand Island Senior High get back into its Class A state quarterfinal playoff game against Omaha Burke Friday night.
That play has the Islanders swinging into the semifinals.
Grand Island quarterback Pierce Almond scored on a fourth-and-4 run from a six-wide to the left and two-wide to the right formation with 11:29 left to keep the Islanders alive.
Then, the junior threw a two-point conversion pass to Kevin Cahoy with 1 second left after he scored on another 4-yard run to give Grand Island an incredible 36-35 comeback victory at Burke Stadium.
“It was a great play...perfectly executed,” Almond said.
Just like the last drive.
No. 8 Grand Island (10-1) moved 80 yards in 2:24 after Carson Guy missed a 33-yard field goal that would have sealed the game for No. 4 Burke (7-4).
Instead, the Islanders will host No. 2 Omaha North (10-1) — which beat fifth-ranked Millard North 21-5 in other quarterfinal action — next Friday night in the biggest game at Memorial Stadium since the 1990 Class A state championship.
The Islanders faced second-and-goal from the Burke 4-yard line with 8 seconds to play. With his receivers covered and the clock winding down, Almond bolted for the end zone.
“I knew we had 8 seconds left on the clock,” Almond said. “Nobody was open. I saw a hole and dove in.”
Almond’s heroics were not over. The Islanders left senior kicker Brendan Wentling on the sideline to go for the win.
“I thought about it the whole last drive,” Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin said of the two-point decision. “We weighed a lot of stuff. We had a tired defense. On the road. I thought we had a good chance. When you have momentum, you go while it’s hot.”
Once again, Almond only had two linemen in front of him. He took the shotgun snap, then found Cahoy — who played with three fingers wrapped up due to an early-season tendon injury — in the back of the end zone.
“Kevin Cahoy was clutch,” Tomlin said. “He came up with two clutch catches.”
Cahoy had two receptions for 30 yards in the final 12 minutes. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior also scored on a 5-yard fumble recovery in the second quarter.
Grand Island faced a 35-21 deficit after Alex Curbeam scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 2:43 to play in the third quarter. Burke racked up 467 yards (252 rushing and 215 passing). However, the Bulldogs only scored once on their final five possessions.
“Offense played well,” Burke coach Paul Limongi said. “We knew it would be close. We thought we would put it away in the fourth quarter.”
Burke used big plays to take control late in the first quarter.
Senior Logan Gier, who rushed for 176 yards on 23 carries, scored on a 71-yard run to give the Bulldogs their initial lead at 14-7 with 11 seconds left in the first quarter. Curbeam had two long second-quarter touchdown passes — a 38-yard bomb to Trey Carr and an 89-yard slant to Lim Puoch — as Burke took a 28-21 halftime lead.
After a fast-paced opening half that featured seven possessions for each team, Grand Island and Burke both had the ball four times in the final 24 minutes.
Grand Island was in trouble after Carr intercepted Almond’s flea flicker pass in the end zone and returned it 42 yards with 9:26 remaining. Burke had the ball for 7:01, but did not score.
“When they had the ball and missed the field goal, we knew we had one more shot to make it,” Almond said. “We capitalized.”
On two other drives in the middle quarters, the Islanders denied Burke on downs.
“They stopped us on a couple fourth-and-1s, third-and-1s we needed to get,” Limongi said. “We just didn’t get them.”
A balanced Islander attack produced 448 yards. Almond had 252 yards passing, 64 yards on 21 carries and one reception for 16 yards to pace G.I., which ran 33 more plays than Burke (83-50).
“I thought offensively we played well,” Tomlin said. “I thought coach (Russ) Harvey (Grand Island’s offensive coordinator) had a good game plan going in. We made the plays when we had to.”
The Islanders advanced despite going minus-two in the turnover department. Almond also had a second-quarter interception, which was a distant memory as Grand Island and its student section celebrated on the field after Burke’s 1-yard kickoff return on the final play.
“It’s big for our program,” Tomlin said of a first semifinal berth in 23 years. “The kids deserve this.
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