CENTRAL POINT — Crater football player Austin Kramer needed but one word to sum up the final minutes of his team’s game on Friday night.
“Crazy,” the smiling junior receiver said. “Just crazy.”
The undefeated Comets survived a wild and, at times, crazy Class 5A state quarterfinal contest with Central at Dutch Meyer Stadium, hanging on for a 24-21 victory.
Second-seeded Crater (11-0) will face No. 6 Summit (10-1) in the semifinals — the program’s first appearance in the final four — next Saturday at a location to be determined. Summit upset No. 3 Redmond, 42-14, on Friday.
The Comets took their first lead of the game with 3 minutes, 21 seconds remaining after Cavin Gillispie ran in a 2-yard score.
Crater further helped itself when linebacker Tommy Winningham intercepted a Peter Mendazona pass with about 2:30 left.
All considered, things were looking good for the home team. But then Crater quarterback Matt Struck was picked off himself on a third-and-6 pass with 1:46 to go at the Central 28, giving the Panthers new life. After a pair of incompletions, an ensuing holding penalty on the Comets kept Central’s hopes afloat.
The Panthers (7-4), seeded seventh, got as close as their 46-yard line before Mendazona was brought down on a run attempt on fourth-and-6, his squad’s last gasp.
After that, it was a Comet party.
“We kept going and we fought adversity,” said Kramer, who had eight catches for 152 yards. “Every time something wrong happened we’d get together and regroup. We said in the huddle, ‘We’ve got to keep pushing, we’re not gonna stop here, this is our season, we’ve gotten this far, why give it up?’”
That mantra rang true, and the crowd roared with approval as Crater sealed the triumph.
“I can’t say enough about the resolve and the resiliency of our players,” Crater head coach John Beck said. “Talk about giving it 100 percent effort, never quitting, just sticking to the game plan and playing their hearts out and finally coming away with an exciting win.”
Before all that drama, plenty of heroics were required.
With Crater down 14-7 midway through the third quarter, Struck scrambled away from several defenders on third-and-19 and connected with Kramer on a heart-stopping 54-yard reception. That set up the game-tying, 1-yard keeper for Struck, who had been sacked for a loss of 13 yards moments earlier.
The senior finished 16 of 28 passing for 273 yards with one touchdown and the one interception. He was 7-for-7 for 117 yards in the second quarter.
“Matt played great,” Beck said. “Matt extended plays with his feet and his eyes were always down field and he was just a great leader.”
As for that pick?
“I trust our defense, honestly, and they showed it the whole game from the first snap of the ball,” Struck said. “That last pick kinda got me a little fired up.”
Earlier in the third quarter, Central went up 21-14 when Mendazona hit Peter Mason for a 45-yard TD bomb.
Jason Santoni’s 33-yard field goal cut the margin to four for the Comets with 1:28 left in the third.
In the first half, with only 1:21 to go until intermission, Crater pulled into a 7-7 deadlock when Struck connected with Gillispie on a 5-yard score.
However, Central responded with a 32-yard scoring strike from Mendazona to Mason with 42 seconds left in the period to take a 14-7 lead at the break.
The Comets earned their first state playoff win since 2009 last Friday.
“It’s been awhile,” Kramer said. “It’s exciting to be that team. We worked hard in the offseason, came through and we’re here.”
Jake Ireland made three catches for 67 yards for Crater.
Medazona finished 20 of 42 passing for 283 yards with one interception. His top target was Mason, who had eight grabs for 180 yards.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt