MIAMI — Coinciding with the appearance of the sun for the first time all game, the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Golden Norsemen rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Blinn College, 38-34, in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference semifinals, Saturday afternoon, at Red Robertson Field.
Shrouded in low clouds and a steady mist, “Ol Saul’ didn’t make an appearance until just 0:39 seconds left in the game.
The victory by the Golden Norsemen came one week after NEO had posted a 35-26 win at Brenham, Texas over the Buccaneers.
After finishing in a three-way tie with No. 7 ranked Trinity Valley, Texas and No. 11 rated Blinn, the No. 8 ranked Golden Norse entered post season as the No. 2 seed.
With the victory, the Norsemen (8-2 and 5-2) advance to the SWJCFC Championship game, Saturday, Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. in Athens, Texas against four-time defending conference champ Trinity Valley (8-2 and 5-2).
The No. 1 seeded Cardinals defeated No. 4 seed Navarro College, 48-39, Saturday evening at Bruce Field in Athens.
Winner of the conference title is the host team of the Heart of Texas Bowl, Dec. 2 at Copperas Coves, Texas.
This marks NEO’s first trip to the championship since 2012. Current NEO athletic director Dale Patterson guided the Golden Norse to a 9-3 record that season which included a 62-24 loss to Navarro in the title game and a 42-29 loss to DuPage, Illinois in the Pittsburg, Kansas Citizen’s Bank Bowl.
Entering the final 15 minutes with a precarious 24-20 lead, the Golden Norse surrendered a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Devin Williams to wide out Dandre Reed just 0:28 seconds into the period. Ryan Buckley’s extra point gave Blinn their first lead of the game at 27-24 with 14:32 showing on the clock.
After holding the Norsemen on their next possession, Blinn drove 96 yards in five plays to increase their lead.
Sophomore running back Carlos Grace scored on a 1-yard plunge and Buckley added the PAT for a 34-24 Buccaneer lead with 7:14 remaining in the game.
Passes of 33 and 62 yards from Williams to Reed fueled the Bucs offense during the drive.
A staunch defensive stand on fourth down by NEO resulted in a 29-yard, three-play scoring drive less than one minute later.
Freshman running back Cortez Watson concluded the drive with a 16-yard TD run. Ryan Hawthorn’s point-after closed the deficit to a 34-31 margin.
Despite a 58-yard punt by Blinn’s Reed Bowman that pinned NEO back at their own 6-yard line, the Norsemen needed only five plays to regain the lead.
Veteran running back Darwin Thompson broke loose on a 40-yard run to start the comeback for the Norse. Wide out Marquan Greene took a reverse handoff and dashed 11 yards.
A pass by NEO quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald of 14 yards to KJ Wells moved the Norse to the Blinn 35-yard line.
Steigerwald avoided a heavy rush by the Bucs defensive front four and connected with tight end Jace Sternberger for a 35-yard touchdown pass. Hawthorn’s extra point with 1:27 showing on the clock gave NEO a 38-34 margin.
Blinn began the game by scoring on their second possession. After a fumble by Steigerwald was recovered by cornerback Jerick Pitre at the NEO 38-yard line.
The Williams-to-Reed combination click on the first play with 12:56 left in the opening quarter. Buckley’s extra point a gave Blinn a 7-0 lead.
With 5:20 left in the first 15 minutes, Buckley had a 22-yard field goal attempt fail as the ball bounced hard off the right upright back to the line of scrimmage.
NEO drove 86 yards in just three plays to tie the score in the first 0:22 seconds of the second quarter.
Greene caught a 76-yard bomb from Steigerwald in stride to reach the end-zone. The PAT by Hawthorn produced a 7-7 tie.
Once again, NEO’s defensive unit prevented Blinn from making a first down on a 4th-and-1 call at the Bucs 39-yard line.
Steigerwald scrambled and found wide out Kobe Bryer open on a 22-yard touchdown pass at the 10:59 juncture. Hawthorn’s extra point allowed the Norse to grab a 14-7 lead.
Fueled by three consecutive NEO penalties, the Buccaneers moved 85 yards in 10 plays.
Buckley’s 25 yard field goal with 4:45 until halftime created a 14-10 deficit for Blinn.
Steigerwald took the Golden Norse offense to the air in the final four minutes with five straight pass completions.
The final pass was a 10-yard TD throw to Greene with 0:39 before intermission. Hawthorn tacked on the point-after to give NEO a 21-10 halftime lead.
Blinn received the second half kickoff and drove 81 yards in six plays to put points on the scoreboard. Grace uncorked a nifty 53-yard run straight up the middle to ignite the drive.
Reed caught a 16-yard TD pass from Devin Williams and Buckley kicked the extra point to create a 21-17 deficit at the 12:19 mark.
Buckley’s second attempt at a field goal from 43 yards out fell short of its mark with 9:48 left in the third quarter.
The Golden Norsemen got bit by some bad luck after a 29-yard touchdown pass from Steigerwald to Wells was nullified at the 8:29 juncture because of an offensive lineman down field penalty.
Hawthorn nailed a 31-yard field goal with 5:31 left to give NEO a 24-17 cushion.
Not to be outdone, Buckley hit a 27-yard field goal with just 0:59 seconds remaining in the third quarter for a 24-20 deficit.
Thompson rushed for 84 yards on 17 carries as the Golden Norse offense earned 124 yards on 36 carries. Watson added 22 yards on three carries and one TD.
Steigerwald completed 20 of 35 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Cordale Grundy and KJ Wells each threw one incomplete pass.
Wells led the Norse receiving corps with six catches for 99 yards while Greene contributed four receptions for 96 yards. Freshman wide out Marcheenan Hair caught four passes for 59 yards.
Carlos Grace led all runners with 163 yards on 30 carries one touchdown. The Buccaneers rushed for 229 yards on 50 carries.
Devin Williams completed 10 of 23 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Reed caught six passes for 119 yards and three TDs. Sicory Smith added three receptions for 99 yards.