ST. AMANT — St. Amant and running back Cade Nelson weren’t to be denied.
The problem was, neither was Northshore.
Nelson settled the debate, capping a memorable five-touchdown outing with his final score — a 5-yard run on second down — to propel fifth-seeded St. Amant to a 41-38 victory Friday in double overtime over No. 28 Northshore in a Class 5A nonselect thriller at The Pit.
The Gators (10-1) host No. 12 Airline in next Friday’s nonselect regional.
“The whole offense knew the importance of that drive,” said Nelson, who rushed 32 times for 278 yards. “Nothing had to be said. We weren’t going to kick field goals; we were going to win the game.”
Northshore, making its first playoff appearance since 2008, erased a 21-0 halftime deficit and forced overtime when quarterback Walter Harris III ran for a 9-yard touchdown with 6.2 seconds remaining. Andrew Stine’s extra point tied the game at 28-28.
The Panthers (6-5) tying drive covered 80 yards in 13 plays and lasted 2:47 with Harris completing 4 of 6 passes for 67 yards.
Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime with Nelson scoring on second-and-goal from 4 yards out. Hector Rodriguez kicked the extra point.
Harris threw his fourth TD — a 7-yarder to Branyan Bounds, and Stein once again tied the game.
Harris completed 16 of 40 passes for 353 yards, and Cole Cavallo leading the way with nine catches for 158 yards and 2 TDs. Harris also added 96 yards and a TD on 26 rushing attempts.
St. Amant’s defense, which picked off Harris at the Gators’ 10 and in the end zone in regulation, delivered the key play on Northshore’s second-overtime possession when Bounds was dropped for a 3-yard loss on third down to force a field goal attempt.
Stein kicked a 21-yarder on fourth down to give the Panthers their first lead of the game, 38-35.
“The thing that separated the two teams was red zone defense,” St. Amant coach David Oliver said. “We were kind of sloppy in some areas, but when it mattered in the red zone, our defense bowed up.”
In its double-overtime possession, St. Amant reached the 5-yard line on a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone, setting up Nelson’s second-effort run for the game-winner over the right side.
Nelson scored on a pair of 2-yard runs to help St. Amant lead 21-0 at halftime.
Northshore rallied behind the arm of Harris with a pair of long TD passes — 76 yards to Cavallo and 63 to Jeremiah McDonald within a two-minute span. The Panthers then pulled even at 21-all on Cavallo’s 4-yard pass from Harris with 3:49 remaining.
“I love the way Northshore plays football,” Oliver said. “They were scrappy, intense and tough. They’re a lot like us. It was a heck of a game.”