High school football: Simley tops South St. Paul in another thriller

With three minutes to go in a tie game against a fierce rival and a running play called, Simley quarterback Justin Warrick looked at running back Andrew Bergum and said, “Get in the end zone.”


“He got in the end zone,” Warrick said with a smile.

Bergum dashed in for a 25-yard score with 2 minutes, 55 seconds to play to put Simley in front for good as the Spartans held off South St. Paul 21-14 in Inver Grove Heights on Friday night.

Bergum’s scamper came immediately after a South St. Paul offsides penalty gave the Spartans a first down on a fourth-and-5. After a recent stretch of South St. Paul dominance in the series, Simley has bested its rival twice in a row.

The one consistent in this series remained Friday: thrilling ballgames.

For that, Warrick credited the rivalry. Guys know one another between the two teams. Many of them are friends and even former teammates from youth leagues. When they share the field on Fridays, there’s beef, there is jabbering and there is intensity.

“I love how it brings out the best out of both teams,” Simley coach Chris Mensen said.

Mensen was a longtime assistant on the Spartans’ staff before getting the head job. He was on the sidelines for many Simley losses to South St. Paul.

“We lost to them every year,” Mensen said. “Sometimes multiple times.”

But the Spartans broke through a year ago, edging the Packers 17-12, and they followed it up with another win Friday.

“To have a run here where we get the best of them means a lot,” said Mensen, who noted he’s incorporated a lot from what Chad Sexauer does with the Packers into his own program.

After a scoreless first quarter, South St. Paul struck first, with Alex Tittrington hitting Jaylin Nicman-Burnett on a 17-yard strike to put the Packers up 6-0. South St. Paul executed a fake punt deep in its own territory early in the drive.

That’s where the score stood until late in the half, when Simley’s offense woke up, with the help of the no-huddle offense. Warrick threw a pair of touchdown passes in the five final minutes of the half — the first a 44-yard strike to La’Tayvion McCoy-Nunn, followed by a 23-yard pass to Landan Duval on a fourth-and-10 play with just 15 seconds to play in the half to give Simley a 14-6 lead at the break.

“We just got rolling. We did the quick plays, where we just kept going and going, driving in the no-huddle,” Warrick said. “The balls were moving, my arm was going well and we connected.”

But South St. Paul (1-1) didn’t fold. The Packers — down a couple of key playmakers on the offensive side of the ball — knotted the game early in the fourth quarter when Colten Becker scored from 18 yards out, followed by a successful 2-point conversion. South St. Paul stopped Simley (2-0) on the following possession. The momentum was entirely in the Packers’ corner. Mensen didn’t feel like he prepared last year’s team enough for such situations. So this year, Simley practices high-stakes scenarios with various competitions so it is ready for the moment, and it showed.

“It’s cool to see them rise to the challenge,” Mensen said.

South St. Paul also had a chance to tie the game after Bergum’s late score but turned the ball over on downs near midfield. Simley ran out the clock on its ensuing possession. Bergum finished with 19 carries for 103 yards and the winning score.

“That was a great win by (Simley),” Sexauer said. “We had opportunities, back and forth, ebb and flow.”

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