LINTON - The first 15 minutes couldn't have gone worse for Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn in its Class A first-round playoff game with Linton-HMB.
The last 33 minutes couldn't have gone better.
W-N-G rallied from a 28-point first-half deficit and defeated the Lions 42-36.
Hunter Braaten's 43-yard touchdown pass to Kodie Hancock with 4:53 left in the contest broke a 36-36 tie and capped the torrid comeback that sent the Sioux into Saturday's quarterfinal round.
W-N-G (6-4) trailed 28-0 with 9:39 left in the second quarter.
"It was really tough looking at that deficit and thinking that we still had a chance. But you don't quit," Braaten said. "You take it one play at a time and see what happens. We have guys who can make plays, so in our minds we had a chance. It's just incredible what this team did today."
The Sioux protected their only lead of the game with three straight defensive stops in the last 4:46. Two Linton-HMB possessions ended in interceptions. The other ended deep in Lions' territory as time expired.
"Once we got that lead we weren't about to let it get away," said Braaten, who threw for 185 yards and rushed for another 62. "We worked too hard to get it. Our defense really stepped up. Everybody stepped up in this one."
Linton-HMB's special teams, offense and defense all got into the scoring act in the first quarter as the Lions opened up a 20-0 advantage. On the game's opening possession, W-N-G punter Karlie Hancock mishandled the snap near his own goal line and Linton-HMB's Jordan Gross fell on the loose ball in the end zone for the first score of the game.
Later, Brooks Flyberg tossed a 27-yard scoring pass to Al Gefroh, who made a diving catch in the right corner of the end zone. The score capped a 6-play, 51-yard drive.
W-N-G threatened after the ensuing kickoff, marching to the Linton-HMB 3. But on third down, Gefroh turned a bad snap and an ensuing scramble for the ball into a 62-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Flyberg's 2-point pass to Austin Schell made it 20-0.
Rylan Jacob's 53-yard touchdown run and a Flyberg-to-Gross 2-point pass extended Linton-HMB's lead to 28-0.
"I can't believe all the mistakes we made to start this game," Braaten said. "You had to think that things were only going to get better for us because they couldn't get much worse."
Braaten began the comeback with a 3-yard touchdown run six plays after the ensuing kickoff.
After a Linton-HMB three-and-out, Braaten found Calder Salloway for a 20-yard score to cut the deficit in half.
Then came what may well have been the turning point of the game.
With six seconds left in the half, Kodie Hancock stepped in front of an attempted tight end screen and took the pick 50 yards for a score. Braaten's 2-point pass to Tyler Simpson made it 28-22.
"We knew that screen play was something they liked to run. I was waiting for it," Kodie Hancock said. "I read it right and jumped it. It was a huge play. We went into halftime with all the momentum on our side. We started to really believe that this game was ours."
Linton-HMB opened the second half with a 62-yard drive that Brock Nagel finished off with a 3-yard run. A Flyberg-to-Gross pass for two points followed.
However, W-N-G answered right back with Kodie Hancock's 80-yard kickoff return. After a Linton-HMB punt, Braaten capped a short drive with a 14-yard touchdown run and added a 2-pointer to tie the game at 36 with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
W-N-G's game-winning score came six plays after Linton-HMB was held on downs on the Sioux 25.
Linton-HMB coach Dan Imdieke never felt that a 28-point first-half lead was safe against the Sioux.
"We figured we would have to score a lot of points against these guys. They have a lot of weapons and they're capable of putting up a lot of points in a hurry," he said. "We got off to a great start, but we couldn't keep it going. We made some mistakes, but give (the Sioux) credit. They hung in there and made things happen."