Roland-Story was driving near the goal line with seconds left in the first half, seemingly destined to take a lead into halftime in a tough road game on a rival’s field, when Gilbert linebacker Eric Swart stepped in front of a pass and returned it all the way into end zone the other way for his second long return of the night.
That swing sent the Norsemen into the break trailing 13-7, and coach Aaron Stensland spent the break pleading with his players — specifically, the seniors — to assert themselves.
“Take it home, show me a fist fight,” he told them. “That’s what we said when we got on the bus in Story City, is that we don’t care about the scoreboard or the outcome of the football game, we’re coming over here for a fist fight — not literally, but a fist fight — that’s what we wanted to see in the second half.”
The Norsemen responded, matching every Tiger score with one of their own, and eventually, taking the lead for good with a pair of late touchdowns to secure a 36-27 win.
Jakob Pitman’s short score and Nick Stole’s point after with seven minutes left gave the Norsemen their first lead of the night, and Ben Chelsvig added another score following an interception. But the game wasn’t over yet.
It wasn’t over until Roland-Story quarterback Tyler Risdal ran into the end zone for a two-point conversion with one minute, 21 seconds left that anyone could breathe a sigh of relief.
“Opening kickoff 100 yards, touchdown, a pick-six, before the half, another 100 yards, touchdown,” Stensland said. “They could have quit, easily, down 19-7.
“But man, they were physical, they believed in what they were doing and they just wore them down, wore down a 3A team that was platooning one way. It was great to see, great to see the excitement. A (great) finish.”
Pitman finished with 186 rushing yards and three scores. Chelsvig added 108 yards and two scores.
The Norsemen pounded the ball between the tackles in the second half, which helped offset the big plays Gilbert was making throughout the night.
“We knew it was going to be a tough ballgame,” Tiger coach Scott Auderer said. “We knew they would big, physical. We knew they would come in and play tough-nosed football; it’s just what they do.”
Swart opened the game by taking the kickoff at his own goal line, cutting back to the left side and weaving his way 99 yards up the sideline and into the end zone.
Roland-Story answered with a score two drives later, taking advantage of a short punt to tie the game on Chelsvig’s 4-yard touchdown run.
The rest of the first half was a chess match for field position, until eventually the Norsemen began to find some momentum late in the second quarter. But that’s when Swart stepped in front of Risdall’s pass at his own goal line and returned it the length of the field.
Until that point, it had been a defensive struggle on both sides.
The third quarter was the opposite.
Gilbert that struck first, getting a 10-yard touchdown run from Ajay Reed following an interception on Roland-Story’s first play of the second half.
Like they would do the rest of the night, the Norsemen answered, this time with a 72-yard drive, making it 19-14 on Pitman’s 13-yard touchdown run.
Following punts by both teams, Reed broke free for a 76-yard touchdown run to extend Gilbert’s lead, but again, Roland-Story had a quick answer.
Two plays later, Pitman ran untouched 61 yards into the end zone with 49 seconds left in the third.
A Gilbert punt set up Pitman’s go-ahead score, and Chelsvig and Risdal sealed it late.
“We had some big plays and some momentum and things like that, but, as a young team, they still don’t know what it’s all about yet,” Auderer said. “You can look at it multiple ways. Whatever the case, this is a four-quarter football game, especially with the attitude that they bring.”
The Norsemen nearly pulled out a win in Week 0 against North Polk, but faltered late by allowing two late scores. This time, it was their turn to do the same.
“With so many new guys we kept the game plan simple (last week), we thought we could stay in the game with our defense, which we did,” Stensland said. “Tonight we opened up everything. Spread, trips, three tight ends at one time.”
Roland-Story 36, Gilbert 27
Roland-Story 7 0 14 15 - 36
Gilbert 7 6 14 0 – 27
Gilbert – Eric Swart 99 kickoff return (Matthew Koenig kick), 11:42
Roland-Story – Ben Chelsvig 4 run (Nick Stole kick), 4:23
Gilbert – Swart 97 interception return (Kick failed), 1:00
Gilbert – Ajay Reed 10 run (Kick failed), 10:14
Roland-Story – Jakob Pitman 13 run (Stole kick), 6:28
Gilbert – Reed 76 run (Landon Howard pass from Matt Baragy), 1:37
Roland-Story – Pitman 61 run (Stole kick), 0:49
Roland-Story – Pitman 2 run (Stole kick), 6:59
Roland-Story – Chelsvig 13 run (Tyler Risdal run), 1:21