Sometimes, playoff football is about making one more play than your opponent.
That was the case Friday at Bear Field in a 4A state playoff game between Moscow and Middleton.
With Moscow driving deep into Middleton territory on a potential game-winning drive, a Bears receiver slipped on the frozen grass and the ball sailed into the hands of Vikings linebacker Jerry Kiser, who sprinted 85 yards for a touchdown.
The interception provided the only points of the second half in Middleton’s 13-3 victory against Moscow.
It was the clincher for Middleton and a heartbreaker for Moscow.
Playing with a backup quarterback, kicker and a safety, Moscow hung with Middleton for more than three hours during a chilly, defensive slugfest.
“Our kids battled all night, and it was tough,” Middleton coach Bill Brock said. “Moscow played extremely well. They played hard and our hats off to them. It’s not an easy trip.”
Middleton running back Trenton Johansen scored the only offensive touchdown of the game in the first quarter on a 2-yard run, and the Vikings led 7-0 at halftime. Johansen finished with 110 yards rushing.
Moscow got on the scoreboard in the third quarter on a 29-yard field goal by backup kicker Joey Pattinson.
Moscow (5-4), playing without starting quarterback Chad Redinger, relied on the arm and legs of backup Lane Hanson.
The junior was phenomenal in his second start of the season, going 31-of-47 passing for 263 yards and rushing for 80 more, most of which came in the second half.
But Middleton (7-3) did just enough to keep the Bears out of the end zone, and Hanson’s interception in the final minute was the dagger Middleton needed.
“I thought Lane Hanson stepped up and played great for us,” Moscow coach Phil Helbling said. “He had a big pick there at the end, but you know what, that stuff happens. That’s football, that’s life.
“Lane’s a competitor and I knew that going in — he’s going to give us a chance, and we had a chance ... it just didn’t work out.”
Hanson and the Bears had a knack for keeping drives alive. On a fourth-and-15 in the third quarter, Hanson found tight end Jonah Elliss deep down the right sideline for a 29-yard gain to the Vikings’ 7-yard line. The play eventually led to Moscow’s field goal.
Late in the fourth, Hanson scampered 30 yards on a fourth-and-inches play — his longest run of the night.
The play resulted in a scary moment for Middleton. Defensive back Maurice McGrew was injured on the play and was carried off on a stretcher after a 15-minute delay as medical staff attended to him.
Moments later, Moscow drove inside the Vikings’ 20 with less than a minute to go when Kiser made the big pick.
It was a defining play in a game where both defenses shined. Middleton garnered an interception and fumble recovery, and Moscow intercepted Vikings quarterback Dallas Hagler three times — two by Ethan Hopkins and one by Pattinson.
“The defense played lights out,” Helbling said. “Our defensive front played great outside of a few big runs. We shut down a pretty darn good offense that has a lot of weapons.”
On offense, Ben Postell had eight catches for 82 yards and Elliss grabbed five for 76 for Moscow. Brandon Suquet (seven catches, 43 yards) and Logan Shears (five, 49) also contributed some tough yards after contact.
For Middleton, six players caught a pass led by Kiser’s one catch for 54 yards.
Helbling said Moscow’s seniors, particularly captains Bennett Marsh and Shears, laid a foundation he hopes will carry into Moscow’s future.
Moscow finished the season with a winning record for the first time since 2010.
“Those guys just clawed and fought and scratched and embodied what it meant to be a Bear, and the things we preach on a daily basis,” Helbling said. “What a game, what a battle against a good football team. Just really proud of our kids.”
Middleton 7 0 0 6—13
Moscow 0 0 3 0—3
Middleton — Trenton Johansen 2 run (Riley Cummings kick), 4:41.
Moscow — Joey Pattinson 29 field goal, 5:23.
Middleton — Jerry Kiser 85 interception return (kick failed), 0:54.
RUSHING — Middleton: Johansen 18-110, Dallas Hagler 4-28, team 1-(-1). Moscow: Lane Hanson 16-80, Brandon Suquet 7-10, team 2-(-18).
PASSING — Middleton: Hagler 18-37-3—180. Moscow: Hanson 31-47-1—263.
RECEIVING — Middleton: Kiser 1-54, Nik Mips 2-35, Tyler Medaris 3-28, Jace Rodgers 4-23, Johansen 2-21, Cash Cowdery 6-19. Moscow: Ben Postell 8-82, Jonah Elliss 5-76, Suquet 7-43, Logan Shears 5-39, Brayden decker 5-21, Trevor Dismukes 1-2.
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @StephanSports.