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Ryan Donohue has had big games in his four-year varsity career before. His performance Saturday will rank as one of his best yet.
Donohue racked up 274 yards and four touchdowns – all on a bum leg – as fifth-seeded Monticello rode their powerful tailback to a 45-26 win against fourth seed Nokomis in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.
Like many players at this point in the season, Donohue admitted he wasn’t 100 percent healthy, but the senior captain labored and limped his way to the Sages’ third playoff win in his four years.
“The win definitely takes the pain away,” he said.
Monticello (8-2) jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead behind two Donohue touchdown bursts and quarterback Parker Trice’s 19-yard run to pay dirt to open the scoring.
Donohue had 142 of the Sages’ 221 total yards in the first half, while Monticello’s defense limited Nokomis (8-2) to only 73 yards and one 40-yard scoring drive after a fumbled punt return. The Redskins entered the playoffs with the highest-scoring offense (52.1 ppg) in Class 3A, but couldn’t move the ball consistently against Monticello’s stout front seven.
Nokomis quarterback Luke Hamlin completed 1 of 8 passes for -3 yards in the first half.
“They’re a running team, but if you can get them to throw, their one weakness on offense is pass protection,” Monticello coach Cully Welter said. “He barely had any time to throw. Certainly, we wanted to get them in those situations.”
The Redskins, however, managed to close the gap to within one score in the second half.
After a Donohue 34-yard touchdown run put Monticello up 28-7 early in the third, Nokomis put together a methodical drive behind the outside running of Hamlin and junior Austin Chausse. Chausse broke free for a 10-yard TD and added the extra point himself to trim the Sages’ lead to 28-14 with one second remaining in the quarter.
A once-dejected Nokomis sideline showed some life after the TD, and erupted just seconds later when the Redskins recovered a Josh Burton fumble on the kick return. Junior Bryce Pavolka scored three plays later, and suddenly a game that looked like Monticello would run away with turned into a battle.
“I knew the game wasn’t over. I thought if we punched one more in there, we were in good shape,” Welter said. “We had our opportunities and then we decided to start handing them the ball back.”
Monticello responded with a seven-play drive that netted a field goal from kicker Bryce Shaffer, but Nokomis scored again after Hamlin found senior Devon Wright for a 29-yard pass – the Redskins’ first positive pass play of the game – to set up Hamlin’s quarterback sneak for the TD and cut the Sages’ lead to 31-26.
That’s when Donohue slowly jogged onto the field before answering with a 62-yard touchdown run past three Nokomis defenders to seal Monticello’s victory.
“Typical Monticello, didn’t come out in the second half,” Donohue said. “Then all of the sudden, we kind of turned it on there at the end. We have to come out all four quarters next time.
“Things got bad, but we tried to stay positive through it, and then we broke that big one.”
The Monticello defense knew of Nokomis’ propensity to score. 50-plus points a game is nothing to laugh at, of course.
But this Sages unit isn’t one to back down from a challenge. Not with senior leaders like Austin McCall and Vinny Strack – both of whom worked their way back from injuries this season – plugging the holes and laying the hits.
Monticello defenders were in the Redskins’ backfield seemingly every play putting pressure on Hamlin or breaking up one of Nokomis’ many sweeps to the outside.
“We always like to get a heavy dose of blitzing in there,” said McCall, who had two sacks and 14 total tackles. “We had a lot of pressure on the quarterback the whole game, and it’s hard to run the ball and pass the ball when we do that."
The Sages forced six Nokomis turnovers – helping offset their own four turnovers on offense – and never let the Redskins offense find its normal rhythm. Sophomore linebacker Clay Becker had a team-high 15 tackles. Strack added nine and Ben Wilson had seven.
“We didn’t always get in the best situation, but we still gave up more points than we would have liked,” McCall said. “Next week, we’re going to have to bear down and make some plays.”
With another ahead
Donohue and the Sages are looking forward to a matchup with undefeated Williamsville (10-0) in the second round.
“You know me, I wasn’t even going to consider looking ahead to them, but obviously we’re well aware of the fact that they only gave up 14 points (in the regular season),” Welter said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but the alternative was to be home next week. Now we’re going to be home with a chance to play.”
McCall said he goes in with the mindset that every play could be his last.
“That’s what I try to do every play, every snap,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to play your last snap because I was hurt for like three games this year.”
“There’s no stopping now,” Donohue said.