The roar of the crowd grew louder as West Salem High School quarterback Ryan Beirne ran free and a pass thrown by wide receiver Jake Whitbeck sailed through the air.
After the ball hung in the air for what seemed like forever, the roar turned to screams as it fell into the hands of Beirne around the 35-yard line with roughly 25 seconds left on the clock.
The senior saw nothing but the end zone after securing the ball and raced to the right sideline on his way to scoring on a 46-yard touchdown play that paved the way for a wild 28-27 win in an MVC battle with Holmen at Logan’s Swanson Field.
“I knew something big was going to happen when we lined up,” said Whitbeck, who took the ball on a pitch from running back Brendan Holt. “We’d been practicing that play all week. We had it down.”
Beirne took off down the field after handing the ball off to Holt and waited for the pass without a defender anywhere near him. After gathering himself, he returned to kick the winning extra point with 20.6 seconds left.
An interception ended Holmen’s final possession, and the Panthers (4-1, 3-0) took over sole possession of first place in MVC by coming back from a 14-7 deficit and recovering from a go-ahead touchdown that Holmen scored with 1:05 left.
The Vikings (3-2, 1-1), who rushed for 421 yards, had a three-game winning streak snapped.
Drew Becker, who rushed for 137 yards and scored two touchdowns, gave Holmen its final upper hand when he scored from 15 yards out after patiently waiting for a hole to open on the left side of the field.
But the snap on the extra-point attempt was bad, and the kick was never attempted as West Salem tackled the holder. The Panthers then marched 65 yards on six plays for the winning touchdown.
A pass from Holt moved the ball to the Holmen 46, and he was pushed out of bounds with 30.1 seconds left before the final play was called.
Beirne handed off to Holt, who ran to his left and gave the ball to Whitbeck, who headed back to the right.
West Salem coach Justin Jehn hoped the play worked, but he could only judge on the reaction it received.
“I was screened from it,” Jehn said. “I didn’t see him catch it, but I saw him running.”
Holt rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns, and Beirne added 141 and a 63-yard TD run in the third quarter.
The Panthers appeared to end the first half just the way they wanted with an 80-yard touchdown drive that tied the game.
Holt started it with a 12-yard run on first down, and Beirne followed it later with a 37-yard run up the middle to move the ball to the Holmen 8.
Holt scored from the 5 two plays later, and Beirne’s extra point tied the score at 14 with 1:03 left in the half.
Beirne forced the Vikings to start from the 20 by sending his kickoff to the end zone, but Kevin Koelbl took the first handoff and burst through a hole to the left sideline.
Koelbl continued down the field, cut back to the right side and was tackled at the West Salem 20 after a 60-yard gain. The teams traded timeouts in the closing seconds, but Koelbl just beat Joe Wopat to the pylon with 9.7 seconds left to break the tie and give Holmen a 21-14 halftime lead.
Koelbl rushed for 87 first-half yards on six carries, while Becker gained 87 with his 34-yard TD run in the first quarter the highlight.
The Vikings had 226 yards — all on the ground — in the first half.
West Salem picked up nearly all of its 184 first-half yards from Holt’s 108 on the ground. He finished the Panthers’ opening 70-yard drive by scoring from the 1 before Becker and Toride put Holmen in charge by finishing the Vikings’ next two drives.
Torud’s go-ahead touchdown — to make the score 14-7 — was set up by by a Cameron Weber interception on a long throw by Beirne.