VERNDALE -- The Verndale Pirates football team played without its usual punter, kicker, linebacker, running back and field general Saturday.
Second-seeded Verndale didn't make excuses, however, defeating the third-seeded Underwood Rockets 24-12 in the Section 4, Nine-Man semifinals.
It was the second straight victory for Verndale over Underwood (7-2 overall). The Pirates beat them 36-19 in the final regular-season game Oct. 16. In that game, however, Verndale senior captain Casey Finck injured his knee and didn't play Saturday.
"I think we really did a great job of filling in for Casey," said Verndale coach Mike Mahlen. "The players accepted and handled it better than I did. I was probably more negative than anybody about him not playing. I was trying not to be and the kids wouldn't let me. They played great and dang it we got some great leadership from our seniors."
The whole team chipped in to replace Finck. Quarterback Cory Umland carried the biggest burden. The junior rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and came up with the game-securing touchdown pass.
With less than five minutes left, and the score 16-12, Verndale ran to the Underwood 20. On fourth and four, Verndale didn't want to give the ball back to Underwood and needed a big play.
Umland dropped back, looked right, then left to find tight end Eric Bramer behind the defense for the score and a 22-12 lead.
Umland then connected with Brad Erckenback for the 2-point conversion and the 12-point victory.
"It was just a crossing pattern and Eric got behind them and got open," said Umland. "That was a big play."
The Pirates' defense held Underwood to 92 yards in the first half. Verndale managed only 81 yards but scored first on an Umland 2-yard run. Umland found Wyatt Carr for the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
In the second, Underwood scored on a 1-yard plunge by quarterback Mitch Jeppesen.
On the ensuing kickoff, senior Kyle Ashman, who rushed for 101 yards, broke an 89-yard kickoff return for a 16-6 Verndale halftime lead.
After a scoreless third, Jeppesen found tight end Marcus Meder on a 13-yard touchdown toss to make it 16-12. The unfazed Pirates marched down the field, collecting first downs and running the clock down to the decisive score.
"That was a big throw," Mahlen said of the final touchdown. "It was a big call. We didn't want to give them the ball back with two minutes the way they were throwing the ball.
"They have the capability of breaking the big one."
Verndale's Tyler Fuller recovered a fumble on the kickoff to ensure the win.
The Pirates' defense came up big on numerous occasions. On fourth and four at the Verndale 6, Jeppesen ran off tackle and was stuffed by the Pirates.
After a fumbled snap on a punt gave Underwood the ball at the Verndale 18, sophomore Isaac Johnson intercepted a Jeppesen pass. Johnson finished with eight tackles and defensive tackle Jason Kneisl led Verndale with 10.
Underwood 0 6 0 6 -- 12
Verndale 8 8 0 8 -- 24
V-Cory Umland 2 run (Wyatt Carr pass from Umland) 5:47
U-Mitch Jeppesen 1 run (pass failed) 8:22
V-Kyle Ashman 89 kickoff return (Ashman run) 8:06
U-Marcus Meder 13 pass from Jeppesen (kick failed) 7:12
V-Eric Bramer 20 pass from Umland (Brad Erckenback pass from Umland) 2:07
Rushes-yards -- V 43-203; U 28-91
Pass comp-att-int-yards -- V 3-8-0-41; U 9-19-103
Total offense -- V 51-244; U 47-194
Rushing -- V-Kyle Ashman 17-101, Cory Umland 16-44, Tyler Fuller 6-39, Josh Richter 4-19; U-Mitch Jeppesen 23-84
Passing -- V-Umland 3-8-41; U-Jeppesen 9-18-103
Receiving -- V-Eric Bramer 3-41; U-Ryan Jensen 4-49
Overall -- V 9-0. Next game -- Verndale vs. Isle at Fargodome 3 p.m. Thursday for section title.
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