HASTINGS — Payton Nelson proved Saturday that a running game can sometimes be overrated.
The Midland junior quarterback completed 16 of 28 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Warriors to a 36-15 Great Plains Athletic Conference road football win over Hastings at Lloyd Wilson Field.
Midland (5-2, 3-2 GPAC) had minus 1 yard rushing through the first 35 minutes when Nelson connected on a 16-yard touchdown pass to Darrin Gentry early in the third quarter to expand the Warriors’ lead to 21-7.
Midland finished with 59 yards on the ground, just enough to grind out a pair of short TD runs — a 2-yarder by Garry Cannon late in the third period and a 1-yarder from Adrian Kellogg with 5:01 left in the game to produce the final score.
“Some games are like that,” said Nelson, an Omaha North graduate who also had a 6-yard scoring pass to Dalton Tremayne in the first quarter and a 35-yarder to Kellogg out of the backfield with 2:46 left in the half to give Midland a 14-7 halftime edge.
“We had to take plays where we could get them,” Nelson added. “The passing game started off strong, so we started attacking that. In the second half, we mixed it up pretty well and the coaches put us in good spots. We just had to execute what they sent down to us.”
Midland’s defense also played a factor, intercepting four Hastings passes (two by linebacker Jett Hampton) as well as blocking a punt in the opening period.
“We thought we could throw it on them, but we were disappointed we didn’t run it better, especially in the first half,” said Midland coach Jeff Jamrog, whose team retained control of the Watchorn-McLaughlin Trophy.
“If we had taken advantage of our field position a couple times in the first half, it might’ve been a completely different game at half,” Jamrog added. “Fortunately, we came out and played well in the second half.”
Hastings coach Tony Harper called Nelson “one of the best dual athletes in the conference."
“Our game plan worked pretty well up front and with the linebackers,” added Harper, whose team dropped to 3-4 overall and 1-4 in the GPAC. “We just had a couple of breakdowns in inopportune times with our corners and safeties that hurt us.”
Hastings had its top two quarterbacks — starter Clark Livingston and backup Griffin Roberts — knocked out of the game because of injury. Livingston scored the Broncos’ first TD on a 17-yard run, while Tyree Nesmith had an 11-yard scoring run with 6:34 left in the third quarter to cut Midland’s advantage to 21-15.
Midland bounced back from its 77-21 loss at home last week to No. 1 Morningside. The Warriors, whose other loss is to No. 3 Northwestern, kept their NAIA playoff hopes alive with the win.
“We came back and fought hard in practice, had great reps in everything we did,” Nelson said. “That loss brought us together for sure and humbled us a lot. We didn’t execute perfectly today, but we did well enough to get the job done.”