From where the St. Michael-Albertville coaches stood, it looked short. Barely, but short.
From Mankato West quarterback Robert Meidl's perspective, it was just far enough.
In the end, the St. Michael-Albertville side was proved right.
After a game with more than 600 yards of offense and seven lead changes, it came down mere inches on the field Saturday at Prior Lake High School. Mankato West came up just short on a fourth-down attempt with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left in the game — one of the few times West's offense was stymied al night — and St. Michael-Albertville escaped with a 31-28 victory in the Class 5A semifinals.
The Knights (11-1) advance to the Prep Bowl for the first time since 1999. Mankato West (11-1) had its 16-game winning streak broken.
"Inches," STMA coach Jared Essler said. "Fingernails. It wasn't much. In playoff football, one or two plays make the difference. Three inches was all it took."
Before the crucial measurement, the two teams took turns throwing haymakers.
St. Michael-Albertville wide receiver Isaiah Weston caught six passes for 184 yards and added a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown immediately after Mankato West had taken a 14-10 lead.
"When I saw they were lining up on me man-to-man, I felt disrespected," the 6--4, 215-pound Weston said. "I wanted to make them pay."
Weston was nearly matched by Scarlets receiver Brock Annexstad, who made nine catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Annexstad also caught the fourth-down pass that didn't measure up.
"I'm a biased observer, but I thought we got the first down," Meidl said.
The last lead change came when STMA drove 64 yards in eight plays, including a savvy scramble for a first down by quarterback Jacob Veire and capped by a 4-yard scoring run by sophomore Mitch Kartes.
"They had a look in their eye this week," Essler said of his team's preparation. "Getting to this game losing last year, and especially with the rematch against [Mankato West], they were very well motivated."