Poise on fourth down and a big play before halftime propelled Mankato West to a 28-7 victory against Mahtomedi on Saturday in the Class 5A football tournament quarterfinal at Farmington High School.
With the victory, the Scarlets (11-0) advance to play Spring Lake Park (11-0) in the semifinals on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Quarterback Robert Meidl scored three times, each run from 1 yard out. But everyone was talking about Thomas Yokiel's dramatic 80-yard interception return for a touchdown.
With 3.6 seconds left until halftime and Mahtomedi 41 yards from the end zone, the Zephyrs lined up multiple receivers to the left and sent them downfield. But quarterback Anthony Praml's pass went right to Yokiel at the 20-yard line and the senior safety didn't hesitate.
"I saw that ball go up, then I just made a break for it and I took it to the house," Yokiel said.
If only it were that simple. With Zephyrs closing in, Yokiel knew his sideline route would require a detour.
"I was thinking, 'I've got to cut this back,' and all my guys came with me and kept blocking for me," he said.
Turning back inside at the Zephyrs 30-yard line, Yokiel ran halfway across the field to the end zone. No time remained and Mankato West took a 15-7 lead into halftime.
"Oh my goodness, it was so exciting," senior running back/defensive back C.J. Terry said. "When you get a big play like that, it gives you a lot of momentum."
Mankato West, Prep Bowl champion in 2014, applied pressure on both sides of the ball. The Scarlets used fourth-down conversions to fuel a scoring drive in each half.
Mankato West led 22-7 early in the fourth quarter on Meidel's second short scoring run. The key play on that drive came as Meidl found Dondre Spann for a 34-yard reception on fourth-and 4.
Mahtomedi (10-1) led 7-0 after the first quarter when fullback T.J. Tumbleson rumbled for a 42-yard touchdown. But the Zephyrs' first state tournament run since 2010 ended as Mankato West kept making clutch plays.
"We got them into some situations that we wanted to and they just executed," Zephyrs coach Dave Muetzel said.