Senior Alex Nieves made sure it wasn’t a long journey home Friday night for Peoria Richwoods and coach Roland Brown.
Nieves, who missed a PAT in the first quarter, kicked a 34-yard field goal with 11.4 seconds to play to give 15th-seeded Richwoods a 15-13 win over the second-seeded Triad Knights in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Junior Max Stewart’s snap was high, but his holder, senior Keenan Streitmatter, made a clean catch and smooth placement. Nieves did the rest as his second field goal of the season cut through a stiff crosswind.
“It was a very high snap. I was actually scared it was going to go over (Streitmatter’s) head,” Nieves said. “But he brought it down for me. It went off my foot pretty well, then I saw it go up and the wind kind of pushed it back to the (right) goalpost. I was a little scared it wasn’t going to go in. I definitely think it was one of my better experiences playing for this team.”
Richwoods (6-4) will play host to Centralia or travel to Morton in the second round. Triad finishes the season 8-2.
“Here’s the deal: We could have tried another play,” said Brown, whose team had no timeouts remaining when Nieves lined up for the field goal on third-and-6. “But if we get tackled in-bounds, the clock runs out, and we don’t get a shot. That was our shot. If he makes it, he does. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t.”
Triad, which trailed 12-0 in the first quarter, took a 13-12 lead with 3:57 left in the game on senior Trevor Nott’s 10-yard touchdown pass to senior Burke Warren.
Nott rolled out to his right after taking the pitch from senior quarterback Cody Qualls, and Warren was wide-open in the end zone.
The play came after Richwoods was stopped on fourth-and-1 from its own 15 with 5:26 left. Streitmatter dived up the middle, but the Triad defense pushed him back for no gain.
“It wasn’t the smartest decision, probably,” Brown said. “I almost called a timeout and kicked it anyway to see if we could hold them on defense. I thought it was going to be a long ride home. I would have taken the blame for it. I really thought we could get the half-yard.”
Triad seemed to have the game under control when Richwoods began its final possession at its 29 with 3:47 to play, but Streitmatter gained 20 yards on third-and-3, then completed a 5-yard pass to senior Josiah Neel to put Richwoods at the Triad 28.
A 7-yard run by Streitmatter on fourth-and-4 put Richwoods at the 20. Three plays later, the game was all but over when Nieves connected.
“I wasn’t watching it,” Triad coach Paul Bassler said of Nieves’ field goal. “I just couldn’t do it. I turned and let the crowd tell me. I knew right away as soon as they kind of sighed.”
Triad players hugged one another and wiped away tears near midfield for several minutes after the game.
“It’s tough when it’s the last (game) with a group of seniors that I just spent four years with in the weight room and getting up early to do all the things we’ve done to prepare for this moment,” Bassler said. “For it to end that way is really, really heartbreaking.
“(Richwoods) had too many weapons. To only give up 15 points is pretty complimentary to our defense anyway. We lost to a really good football team. They deserved to win.”
Richwoods senior T’Nahleg Hall finished with 28 carries for 110 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run that made it 6-0 with 5:15 left in the first quarter. Hall had 18 carries for 90 yards at halftime.
Strietmatter’s 6-yard touchdown run after a Triad turnover made it 12-0 with 2:41 remaining in the first quarter.
Triad made it 12-6 with 10:55 left in the second quarter on Qualls’ 28-yard touchdown pass to Nott that went off the hands of a Richwoods defensive back.
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm