In one moment, with one pass, one catch, and one nifty move, Monticello erased a night full of mistakes.
A 27-yard touchdown pass from Jake Berthiaume to Matt Grathwohl on the final play of the game broke a 7-7 tie versus visiting North Branch Friday night and helped move Monticello to 2-0, despite a litany of mistakes, including plenty of dirty laundry on the field.
Monticello committed 15 penalties, totaling a whopping 155 yards. But when Berthiaume put the ball right on the mark and Grathwohl made a guy miss before waltzing into the end zone, the mistakes simply became lessons to learn from, while Monticello continued to benefit from a saying Coach Jason Telecky used after big plays last year, and used again on Friday night.
“Big players make big plays at big moments,” said Telecky, echoing what he said after Hayden Laimer’s catch-and-run beat Cambridge in the final minute last year. “We certainly have those caliber players on our team. That was a huge play by Matt Grathwohl and a huge play by Jake Berthiaume.”
Going up against a team that trailed Rogers 42-7 at the half last week, the Magic didn’t necessarily figure to be in position to need a game-winning score in the final seconds. But playing their first home game of the year, the Magic started slowly and continued that way for much of the night.
After returning the opening kick to their own 42-yard line, Monticello went backward on their first possession. A personal foul late hit and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the sideline pushed Monticello back to their 31-yard line, from where they were forced to punt.
The Vikings took over at their own 44. Unlike the Magic, they took advantage of their opening field position. After converting on a 3rd and 1 to keep the drive going, North Branch broke a 33-yard run down to the Magic 5-yard line. On third and goal from the one, they were again able to get what they needed. Running a deceptive offense built around fake handoffs and staying low, the quarterback kept the ball going to the right and plunged into the end zone. For the second straight week, the Magic trailed 7-0 early.
This time, there would be no quick bounce back. The Magic managed just two first downs throughout the first half, while their defense continued to bend to North Branch’s running game. Fortunately for the Magic, the defense didn’t break and Monticello entered the half trailing 7-0.
In order to keep North Branch from continually picking up 3 to 4 yards per carry, the Magic decided at the half that they needed to do everything they could to clog up the line.
“We tried to defend it conventionally, and that just didn’t work,” said Telecky. “So we told [our defensive linemen] to keep their hands and feet on the ground at all times.”
According to their quarterback, the Magic also made an emotional adjustment. After a half full of frustration, they made a point to change their attitude in the second half.
“We just kind of decided to have more fun,” said Berthiaume. “We were playing with anger instead of just playing the game and having fun.”
Both adjustments paid off.
When North Branch took the ball to start the half, the Monticello defense imposed its will. A quick three and out gave Monticello the ball at their own 48-yard line.
From there, it was the Jake Olson show. The senior carried the Magic down the field, culminating with a 23-yard touchdown run where he dragged a defender into the end zone with him.
“I told him, ‘hey, we’re going to ride you buddy,” said Telecky. “Just hop on board and don’t look back.”
After Olson carried them to the promised land, Taylor Modaff tacked on the extra point to make it 7-7.
With North Branch’s ground attack burning time off the clock, Monticello wouldn’t touch the ball again in the third quarter.
When Monticello got the ball back next, they again put pressure on the defense. A Nick Bomersine run, as well as a 16-yard slant from Berthiaume to Andrew Manning helped get the Magic all the way to the opponent’s 32. Facing a 4th and 8 from there, with four minutes and 30 seconds left in the game, the Magic elected to go for it. Berthiaume again found Manning, this time right on the sideline, near the marker, for the completion. However the ball was spotted just inches short of a first down, stopping the Magic threat.
The teams exchanged possessions over the next three minutes. A Magic stop led to a Magic turnover, but that led to yet another Magic stop, as Monticello forced a 3 and out in their own territory with under two minutes remaining. The North Branch ground game had been rendered mostly useless by the clogging of the line.
“The defensive tackles really set the tone,” said Telecky. “That takes an incredible amount of discipline [to clog the line].”
With the final stop, Monticello got the ball back at their own 20-yard line with a minute and three seconds remaining and just one time out.
Berthiaume and the offense went to work.
A couple of Olson runs sandwiched the most impressive pass completion of the year for the Magic. Berthiaume had Manning running down the left side of the field, but Manning had a defender draped all over him. Berthiaume decided to fire anyway.
“I was hoping he looked at the right time,” said Berthiaume. “I threw it back shoulder, and he did what he needed to do.”
The pass whizzed by the defender’s ear hole and into Manning’s hands, where it stuck. The Magic were suddenly well into Tigers territory. However, they weren’t yet out of harm’s way, or their own way for that matter. A holding penalty bumped Monticello back from the 29-yard line to the 39.
“The whole night was like a bad groundhog’s day,” said Telecky. “If we had one good thing happen, we had three bad things happen.”
But what they lacked in perfection, the Magic made up for in perseverance. They moved the ball forward again, and when Berthiaume made the heads-up play to tuck and run out of bounds on second and long, the Magic were granted one final shot into the end zone.
With the ball at the 27-yard line and just three seconds showing on the clock, Monticello called for a backside post to the speedy Grathwohl.
“I just looked right, looked back, and when Matt turned I threw it,” said Berthiaume. “Being short, I couldn’t see over the line that well, so I started jumping. He caught it and took off and my heart started racing, it was great.”
The Magic have work to do, Telecky made that quite clear in his post game speech. But they’ve also proven they have the intangibles that can’t be worked on throughout the year, the big time running back, the poised quarterback, playmaking receivers and linemen that stand tall (or dig in) when needed most. And they continue to possess the most important trait, the one that eluded Monticello football for so long, the ability to find a way to win.
“When we know we need to get it done,” said Berthiaume. “We’re going to get it done.”
It took longer than they would have liked Friday night, and it certainly wasn’t as pretty as they would’ve liked, but once again, the Magic got it done.
Monticello travels to St. Michael-Albertville Friday night for a 7 p.m. clash with the Knights.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]