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On a night when Northwood’s defense came up with four turnovers, it was Patrick Henry that made the final stand.
After Calvin Palmer scored on a seven-yard run to put the Patriots ahead with 7 minutes, 25 seconds to play, their defense forced Northwood into turning the ball over on downs on its final two possessions, and Patrick Henry held on for a 20-19 victory in a Division V opening round playoff game at Northwood on Saturday night.
Patrick Henry (9-2), which defeated the Rangers 49-28 in the first round of the playoffs last year, advanced to face Columbia Station Columbia in a regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We expected a close game,” said Palmer, who finished with 14 carries for 50 yards. “They were a lot bigger and more physical than I remember from last year. We just played with a lot of heart, and our offensive line and defense helped us to persevere.”
The Patriots led 14-13 at the half, although their advantage could have been greater. Patrick Henry fumbled twice in the opening half — including a fumble by quarterback Gabe Jones when Northwood’s Dominik Bermejo hit him and forced him to cough up the ball near the goal line. Jones was also intercepted once.
None of those miscues led to points for Northwood (10-1), but that changed after the break.
Bermejo intercepted Jones’ pass deep over the middle of the field late in the third quarter, and his 27-yard return gave the Rangers possession at Patrick Henry’s 12-yard line.
Nick Whitmore cashed in moments later with his one-yard plunge to put Northwood ahead 19-14 with 45.8 seconds left in the quarter.
The Patriots weren’t behind for long, driving 68 yards in 5:20 to retake the lead on Palmer’s second touchdown of the game.
“It’s all about survival now,” Patrick Henry coach Bill Inselmann said. “I didn’t like our turnovers and the penalties, but [Northwood] is a good football team and they were undefeated for a reason.”
Patrick Henry stuck first on Jones’ 44-yard pass to Zach Nye at the 3:38 mark in the first quarter.
Northwood got on the board in the second on Bermejo’s 15-yard touchdown run at the 10:49 mark.
The Patriots answered on the ensuing drive when Palmer punched in a 1-yard dive with 5:38 to play in the half, making it 14-7 after Jones connected with Josh Petersen on a jump pass in the end zone for the two-point conversion. The Rangers once again had a response, though, in the form of their big, bruising back Whitmore, who rambled for a 36-yard score with 4:44 remaining in the first half and barreled over three defenders along the way.
Whitmore led Northwood with 50 rushing yards on eight carries, while quarterback Nick Russell finished 12-of-23 passing for 156 yards.
“This is heartbreaking, really, for our guys,” Northwood coach Ken James said. “I feel bad more than anything for our seniors, because they’ve put so much effort into this program all the way through their four years here.
“For many of our guys, this will be the last game that they’ll play, and that’s really frustrating for me. I don’t want them to go out this way.”
Despite his miscues, Jones powered the Patriots through the air and on the ground, carrying a game-high 16 times for 46 yards and completing 12 passes on 20 attempts for 147 yards.