With the Glacier Wolfpack offense struggling in the second half, Jake Rendina took matters into his own hands on the game’s final drive.
Rendina rumbled his way into the end zone from 14 yards out with 35 seconds to go, and Glacier escaped with a 35-28 win over Missoula Hellgate in Western AA football action on Friday at Legends Stadium.
Glacier (3-3 overall, 3-2 Western AA) got the ball back on its own 22-yard line with 3:50 to go. Its three previous drives all ended with turnovers by quarterback JT Allen, giving Rendina the chance to step up and be the Wolfpack’s hero.
“Here’s a sophomore kid and when I went into the huddle for a timeout, he’s saying, ‘Coach give me the football. Give me the football. I trust my O-line, we’ve got this,’” Glacier head coach Grady Bennett said.
“And for a sophomore to step up like that, that’s awesome.”
Rendina had 69 yards on nine carries on the final drive to finish the game with 195 yards.
In the first half, the Glacier offense was rolling. It took the Wolfpack just three plays to respond to Hellgate’s opening-drive touchdown as Allen threw a perfect long ball to Drew Deck, who torched the Knights secondary for a 70-yard score.
A three-and-out from Hellgate (3-2, 3-2) and long punt return by Colin Bowden set up Glacier for Rollie Worster scrambled for a six-yard score to cap off an 11-play drive and make it 14-14 in the second quarter but the Wolfpack surged ahead before the half. Allen took it in himself from five yards out and after Henry Nuce blocked a Hellgate punt, Allen found Deck wide open in the end zone from 25 yards out to make it 28-14.
Deck finished with 110 yards receiving and the two touchdowns on eight catches.
But Glacier’s offense could not capitalize on its first-half momentum, going three-and-out on the opening drive of the second half as Hellgate’s defense put additional pressure on Allen.
“That was huge ... we’ve got to take that opening kickoff and do something with it,” Bennett said.
The Knights answered with an impressive drive that led to another Worster running touchdown.
“Worster’s the real deal. What a competitor, what a tough kid. Shoot, he’s one of the best our state’s ever seen,” Bennett said.
The teams traded turnovers – Allen threw two picks and Hellgate fumbled deep in Wolfpack territory – before Worster struck again to tie the game at 28-28. On fourth-and-1 from the Glacier 14, he faked a hand-off and exploded down the middle for his third rushing touchdown of the game.
Worster finished with 136 yards rushing in addition to his 250 yards passing.
“In the first half, we were really clicking, we were executing. In the second half I thought we just didn’t see things as well ... we just didn’t execute very well and let them get back in it,” Bennett said.
“You cannot let a team hang around, you cannot let a team get back in it when you have a lead.”
It looked like Glacier would complete its second-half collapse when Allen fumbled the ball at the Hellgate 41-yard line and the Knights recovered with 5:31 to go. But the Wolfpack defense made a big stop on third-and-8 from the Glacier 48, giving the Wolfpack and Rendina the chance for some late-game heroics.
Bennett said he felt “relief” after the game but was “proud that we found a way to win.”
“Not all victories are pretty,” he said. “Credit Hellgate, they came in, they’re a legitimate football team and played us tough. The key though is our guys found a way.”
Glacier will face Helena High (3-2, 3-2) at home next Friday.
Missoula Hellgate 7 7 7 7 — 28
Glacier 14 14 0 7 — 35
MH — Ian Finch 24 pass from Rollie Worster (Abe Johnson kick)
G — Drew Deck 70 pass from JT Allen (Patrick Rohrbach kick)
G — Colin Bowden 21 pass from Allen (Rohrbach kick)
MH — Worster 6 run (Johnson kick)
G — Allen 5 run (Rohrbach kick)
G — Deck 25 pass from Allen (Rohrbach kick)
MH — Worster 4 run (Johnson kick)
MH — Worster 14 run (Johnson kick)
G — Jake Rendina 14 run (Rohrbach kick)
First downs 20 26
Rushing 43-180 47-252
Passing 11-25-250-0 13-22-163-2
Total offense 430 415
Fumbles-lost 4-2 1-1
Penalties-yds 11-107 7-77
Punts-avg 4-27.5 1-40
PASSING — Hellgate, Rollie Worster 11-24-0-250-1; Glacier, JT Allen 13-22-2-163-2.
RUSHING — Hellgate, Rollie Worster 26-136, Jake Sweatland 16-55; Glacier, Jake Rendina 31-195, JT Allen 5-59, Casey Peiffer 5-29.
RECEIVING — Hellgate, Brandon Coladonato 5-86, Ian Finch 2-36; Glacier, Drew Deck 8-110, Jake Rendina 3-18, Colin Bowden 1-21, Luke Bilau 1-14.