After giving up the game-tying touchdown with a little over 90 seconds remaining, there wasn’t much time for Manhattan to respond Saturday afternoon.
But a lengthy kickoff return by Garrit Weeda set up the Tigers across the 50. Then, following a couple of first downs, Lane Veltkamp tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Gabriel Delgatty at the goalline for the go-ahead score with 29 seconds left, and the Tigers held on from there to stun defending state champion Fairfield.
Veltkamp, who is Manhattan’s senior quarterback, rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another in the 25-19 state Class B semifinal win. The victory snapped Fairfield’s 22-game win streak and propelled the Tigers into their first-ever state championship game.
“It was a huge win. It was kind of a back and forth game honestly,” Manhattan coach Chris Grabowska said. “You could see it in our kids. I witnessed guys saying they’re going to do anything it takes to will themselves to this win and that’s what happened today. They just wanted it and got the job done.”
The Tigers (11-0) will host Eureka (11-0) next Saturday in the championship game. The Lions, who beat Red Lodge 39-35 in the other semifinal, won state titles in 2016 and 2017 and boast an explosive offense.
“I think it’s the two best teams going at it in the last game of the year. They’re a dynamic team. They got a good quarterback. They got some offensive weapons,” said Grabowska. “We’re definitely going to have our work cut out for us. We just got to have a good week of preparation and go into that game and not let them have any big plays.”
Manhattan beat Fairfield for just the second time in program history and for the first time in the postseason. A 19-point fourth quarter proved to be the difference after the teams were tied 6-6 at the half.
The Tigers chewed more than eight minutes off the clock on their first drive of the game en route to taking a 6-0 first lead on a 6-yard run by Veltkamp. Fairfield scored early in the second quarter on a Keeley Bake 3-yard run, but the two-point conversion failed.
The Eagles (10-1) had scored a total of 96 points in their two previous playoff games, so Grabowska felt good about the defensive effort heading into halftime.
“We always have faith in our defense. Fairfield scored 34 or more points every game this season except for this one,” said Grabowska. “Going in at half 6-6 was a pretty big deal.”
Still, Fairfield scored on its first drive of the second half on a 78-yard catch and run by Daniel Faith from Bake. Again, the two-point conversion failed, and the Eagles eventually took a 12-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
Manhattan tied the game on a 6-yard run by Veltkamp with 8:05 remaining, and then took a 19-12 lead when Veltkamp scored on a 5-yard run with just over three minutes remaining.
The Tigers’ defense nearly put the game away on the ensuing drive, forcing Fairfield into a fourth and long situation at their own 40. But Bake scrambled out of trouble and lofted a 60-yard touchdown pass to Conor Murray to tie the game with 1:38 remaining.
“Kind of had a mishap in our coverage,” said Grabowska. “The quarterback scrambled to make a big play and scored.”
But Weeda’s return set up the Tigers’ offense for the game-winning drive.
“Weeda had a great kick off return and got across the 50,” said Grabowska. “So we were able to get a first down and pick up a couple first downs, and then we took a shot with Delgatty in the end zone to win the game.”
Manhattan 25, Fairfield 19
Manhattan 6 0 0 19 - 25
Fairfield 0 6 6 7 - 19
Man - Lane Veltkamp 6 run (kick failed)
Fair - Keeley Bake 3 run (pass failed)
Fair - Daniel Faith 78 pass from Bake (pass failed)
Man - Veltkamp 6 run (kick failed)
Man - Veltkamp 5 run (run failed)
Fair - Conor Murray 60 pass from Bake ( kick)
Man - Gabriel Delgatty 25 pass from Veltkamp (kick failed)