By Eric Keppeler
When the school year first started, the Grand Island football Vikings weren’t even sure they would have a season because of pandemic restrictions.
Seven months later, they finally got their chance and put together a solid campaign that finally came to an end last week in a 20-19 loss to South Park in the Section VI Class A semifinals at All-High Stadium.
“We were pretty discouraged back in September when they delayed the season and then again when they pushed it back to mid-March,” said veteran GI football coach Dean Santorio. “And then when it was all set and we were playing, we were very concerned that we could be put on pause. That could cost you two games in a five-game season, which would have been very tough. But we were able to get through the year.”
The Vikings gave top-seed South Park all it could handle, nearly pulling out a win after a last-minute touchdown pulled them to within a single point with 41 seconds remaining – but a two-point conversion attempt came up just short.
Sparks standout Keith Jackson did most of the damage, rushing for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns; he also helped to break up the decisive conversion attempt.
“We were going to go for one,” Santorio said. “We were all ready to kick but we were waiting to see how they aligned – to see if they were going to have nine or 10 guys on the line to come after it. So we decided to audible and call it in. We got off a good throw and Jackson made a good recovery to get over there and may have got a finger on it and tipped it.”
Parrell Fulgham added a seven-yard TD run for South Park (5-0), with meets Jamestown tonight for the championship in a battle of unbeatens.
For Grand Island (4-2), Joe Dlugokinski rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns and Tyler Weigel scored on a 6-yard quarterback keeper. Dominic Gramza forced a fumble that was recovered by Luke Siefert to set up Grand Island’s final score and a chance to win the game.
“We were pretty confident in our defense and the way our team had played – we had almost 350 yards of offense,” Santorio said. “We thought we had an opportunity to win and we tried to take advantage of that.”
The players coming back for next season won’t have to wait very long as Section VI plans on conducting its usual eight-game schedule in the fall, with practice starting in about three months.
Santorio said the team will return a number of skill players in the fall – starting with junior quarterback Justin Horvath, who split time this season with Weigel.
Also back will be a stable of wide receivers/defensive backs in juniors Jackson Jones, Tyler Figliola, Mike Coburn and Liam Snyder.
Juniors Marcus Celano and Josh Mallabar will be linebackers and running backs, while sophomore Sean Mesmer figures to anchor the lines.
Grand Island finished 28th in the state among Class A schools.
“Given the circumstances, we were very excited to play five games,” Santorio said. “Getting the No. 2 seed in our division was a great opportunity – we were one play away from playing in the championship game. And I’m really happy our seniors got one more chance to play.”