WAVERLY - The Waverly Vikings football team jumped out to a big first-half lead and thanks to some big plays on both sides of the ball ended with a lopsided 48-14 quarterfinal win over the Hastings Tigers Friday.
Waverly put the pressure on early and did not give the Tigers any room to breathe.
“A big key to us was coming out and starting fast,” Head Coach Reed Manstedt said.
As the offense took a couple of drives to heat up, the Waverly defense came out of the gates humming. The high-pressure Viking defense forced the Tigers into a turnover on downs, two punts and only allowed one first down before the Vikings were able to find the end zone.
Waverly would finally find its first touchdown with just under two minutes in the first quarter after senior quarterback Mason Nieman blew by the Hastings’ defense on his way to a 77-yard touchdown.
The ensuing Hastings drive would end in a punt just as the first quarter came to a close and the Vikings would start their drive at the 27-yard line.
Five plays later, Nieman would have a hand in a second touchdown of the night. Nieman would extend a pass play and roll right and find senior receiver Haven Piening 47 yards downfield where Piening would outjump a Hastings defender for the second score of the evening to make it 14-0.
Hastings would answer right back with a pass play of its own but of a much different variety.
Tigers junior quarterback Jarrett Synek slung a quick screen pass to the left side and junior Carson Shoemaker did the rest, tip-toeing down the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown.
The Vikings would answer quickly.
Waverly would start its drive at its own 36-yard line and two plays later would be celebrating another Nieman touchdown. This one a 55-yard jaunt down the middle of the Hastings defense to make it 21-7 with 6:45 left in the half.
After a Hastings punt on its ensuing drive, the Vikings would rely on their senior running back Ethan Kastens to extend their lead.
Waverly would start its drive at its own 31-yard line and the Viking ground game and No. 7 in maroon were clicking.
Nieman handed the ball off seven times, six of them to Kastens who rumbled for gains of 22, 13, seven and a final six yards got the Vikings in the end zone to make it 28-7 in the Vikings’ favor.
At the beginning of the second half, Hastings started with the ball and a bang.
A good kickoff return started the Tigers near midfield and two plays later Synek found junior Zaine Weidner with a pass behind the Vikings’ secondary and Weidner raced for the second Hastings touchdown of the night.
Now with the lead only two scores and the Viking offense struggling to find its footing in the second half, the Viking defense rose to the challenge.
The two teams exchanged possession until 4:45 was left in the third quarter when Waverly junior Hunter Hanke would set up the Vikings to put the game to rest.
The Vikings’ defense, well known for their high-pressure, blitz attack, were especially aggressive Friday. Manstedt said the Vikings blitzed every play and while they had gotten burned twice, Hanke made the Tigers pay for trying a third time.
Synek took the snap and waited for the Tigers’ receivers to get open but it was Hanke who was uncovered and unblocked and Hanke blasted through the line to find Synek still holding the ball. Synek would not be able to keep hold of it though as Hanke sacked the Tiger quarterback and forced a fumble, giving Waverly the ball inside the Hastings’ red zone.
“I think anytime you play a really good quarterback, the last thing you want to do is give him an opportunity to get kind of settled in back there. And we wanted to get pressure on him early and often,” Manstedt said. “(Hastings) runs a lot of slow-developing routes, like wheel routes and stuff like that, and we were pretty confident that if we could put some pressure on him that was going to bode well for us.”
Waverly would inch down to the goal line until Nieman found senior receiver Barrett Skrobecki in the left corner of the end zone to put the Vikings up 35-14 with a minute and a half left in the third quarter.
The next Viking score would come through the air and it would be Skrobecki crossing the goal line but this time the thrower was Synek.
The Hastings quarterback, who was dogged by Waverly pressure all night, threw a pass only to find Skrobecki who then weaved his way through the Hasting offense for a Viking touchdown and an unassailable 41-14 lead with just over nine minutes left in the quarter.
“Barrett’s been so solid for us on both sides of the ball all year,” Manstedt said about his senior linebacker and receiver. “I’m just so happy for him because he’s a kid that puts in so much time and effort.”
The Vikings would add another late touchdown from a seven-yard scamper from junior Zane Schawang to bring the game to its final score, 48-14.
The Vikings would finish the game with 362 yards rushing on the night, with Nieman leading the team with 144 yards, followed by Kastens’ 97.
The quarterfinal win sets the Vikings on course for their rematch with Omaha Skutt.
The Skyhawks are the only team to beat the Vikings in the regular season, a 28-21 double overtime loss in Waverly.
Friday’s semifinal will be hosted by Skutt and is not only a rematch of earlier this season but a rematch of last year’s semifinal, a 34-14 Skutt victory.