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Mathias TD, Jimenez PAT lift Wildcats in OT thriller

HERON LAKE -- Effectively controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball Tuesday night, the fourth-seeded Southwestern United Wildcats won an overtime thriller over No. 5 Martin County West, 23-22, in the opening round of the Section 3AA football playoffs.

"We played extremely well on both sides of the ball," SWU co-head coach Jason Fisher said following the game. "We controlled the line of scrimmage, and our backs did a great job of running and holding onto the ball."

Freshman kicker Octavio Jimenez made two huge kicks in the game's final moments, as he tied the contest at 16-all with a 25-yard field goal with one second left in regulation before he booted the game-winning PAT kick in overtime, giving the Wildcats the 23-22 victory.

The Wildcats (9-0) advance to play top-seeded Luverne Saturday in Luverne, while MCW finishes the season with a 5-4 record.

Trailing 16-13 at halftime, the Wildcats dominated the third quarter, twice driving into the red zone behind the strong running of Alex Leopold (39 carries for 147 yards) and Shaun Mathias (22 carries for 93 yards).

Both drives ate up a lot of time, but the Wildcats failed to score each time as MCW stopped the Wildcats on fourth-and-two at the 12-yard line midway through the third quarter, and Jimenez missed a 26-yard field goal try early in the fourth quarter.

But the Wildcats gained crucial field position with their offensive dominance, as their defensive unit keyed on MCW's ground attack, applying pressure to the backfield on nearly every play.

The defensive work paid off, as SWU's Riley Van Westen picked off a halfback pass from Alex Carpenter to give the Wildcats the ball at midfield with 6:35 remaining in the game.

After turning the ball over on downs a minute later, the Wildcats were back on defense, needing to get the ball back as quickly as possible.

The Wildcats responded by forcing a three-and-out, getting the ball at their own 42-yard line with 3:04 left in the game.

After a couple of short gains on the ground, Lon Eichenberger found Shaun Mathias for an 11-yard pass completion down the right sideline, putting the ball at the Mavericks' 43-yard line with 1:41 remaining.

Eichenberger then scrambled for an 18-yard run, getting out-of-bounds at the 25-yard line with 1:30 left.

Leopold then rushed for gains of three and 12 yards to get the ball to the 10-yard line with about a minute to play.

Mathias gained six yards on two carries before SWU called its second timeout with 38 seconds showing on the clock.

Mathias then was stuffed for a four-yard loss, setting up fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line on the right hashmark.

SWU let the clock run down to six seconds before calling its last timeout, and bringing Jimenez and the kicking unit onto the field.

The snap, hold and protection were all good, and Jimenez banged the 25-yard kick just inside the right upright to tie the game at 16-all with one second left.

"We have a lot of confidence in Octavio," Fisher said. "We sent him back out there, and he came through in the clutch."

The Wildcats stopped MCW on the ensuing kick, and the teams prepared for the overtime session.

MCW had the ball first from the 10-yard line. Three rushes moved the Mavericks to the 1-yard line, and Tate Anderson plowed his way into the end zone from there for a 22-16 MCW lead.

Quarterback Tim Mulso tried rushing for the two-point conversion, but the Wildcats racked him up shy of the end zone to preserve the six-point deficit.

Needing a touchdown, the Wildcats got a four-yard run from Leopold and a five-yard burst from Mathias to move to the one-yard line before MCW called a timeout.

On third-and-goal, the Wildcats called Mathias' number, and the wide receiver-turned-halfback plunged into the end zone to tie the game at 22-all.

Jimenez then calmly booted the PAT through the uprights, giving SWU the 23-22 victory.

The very well-played game -- which had just five total penalties called -- started with MCW getting on the scoreboard first, as Anderson rushed for an 8-yard touchdown with 8:08 left in the opening quarter.

MCW executed a razzle-dazzle pass play -- that saw about four Mavericks touch the ball -- for the two-point conversion, as Carpenter found Zach Umbreit in the end zone for an 8-0 lead.

SWU responded with a 16-play, 84-yard drive that took 8:02 off the clock and cut the lead to 8-7 with 11:54 left in the second quarter.

Leopold capped the drive with a 13-yard, halfback option pass to Lloyd Kalfs for a leaping touchdown. Jimenez added the PAT for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats forced a punt on the ensuing possession, as Bill Blumberg came up with one of his two sacks to spark the defensive effort.

Chewing 8:36 off the clock, the Wildcats drove 73 yards on 15 plays to take the lead with 54 seconds left before halftime. Leopold scored on a 1-yard dive to cap the march.

Jimenez missed the PAT, but the Wildcats were up 13-6, and looking to carry that lead into halftime.

However, Umbreit had other plans, as he took the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown with 37 seconds left in the half. Mulso rushed for the two-point conversion, and the Mavericks were up 16-13 at the intermission.

The score remained the same until the final second of regulation, when Jimenez booted his 25-yard field goal to tie the game and set up the overtime festivities.

SWU totaled 249 rushing yards on 63 attempts, and Eichenberger completed 5-of-6 passes for 61 yards.

MCW was limited to 104 rushing yards on 29 carries and four passing yards on one completion in six attempts.

SWU gained 20 first downs and permitted the Mavericks to move the chains just three times.

MCW 8 8 0 0 6 -- 22

SWU 0 13 0 3 7 -- 23