BELOIT — With a 28-18 win in the Eight-Man Division I All-Star Game the East side swept the 32nd annual event Saturday afternoon in Beloit.
Osborne’s Cullen Grabast was at the center of the East’s second win of the day, playing receiver on offense, in the backfield on defense and serving as a return man on special teams.
“I’m pretty tired,” the future McPherson College Bulldog said. “I’m alright, though.”
The West jumped out to an early lead in Saturday’s nightcap when Spearville’s Luke Heskamp broke a tackle near the goal line to finish a short touchdown run. Rawlins County’s Cole Sramek intercepted a pass later in the opening quarter to help the West take a 6-0 lead to the second.
Grabast got the East offense moving with a big run around the left edge. St. Paul running back Chandler Struthers finished off the drive before Logan-Palco quarterback Josh Van Laeys hit Grabast on a quick out route on the conversion attempt, putting the East up for good.
Moments after putting the East ahead, the Osborne standout padded the lead with a 35-yard interception return. Once he jumped the route, there was nothing in his path to pay dirt.
“(Saw) Nothing but green grass,” Grabast said.
St. Francis’ Brock Waters answered Grabast’s score with one of his own for the West, taking a counter around the right side, before Osborne’s Derek Naegele came up with one of his many stops on the two-point conversion.
It looked like the game would go into the break with the East in front 14-12, but that was before Van Laeys made up for an earlier miss when he failed to spot an open tight end down the middle of the field. With time winding down, the East coaches called the same play.
“He said ‘Do it again. Look the safety off, and it will be open.’ ” Van Laeys recalled. “I did, and it was there.”
Central Burden’s Cody Jimenez was on the receiving end of a 53-yard score that put the East up 20-12 at the half.
Van Laeys and Jiminez linked up on another seam route that put the East in scoring position early in the third quarter. This time Van Laeys kept it from short range to make it 26-12 less than two minutes into the third quarter. The rushing score allowed the East squad to play with a comfortable lead for most of the second half.
“It’s good to go out on top,” Van Laeys said.
“You always want to win your last game.”
The East tacked on points when the West punter was called for intentional grounding in the end zone after a snap sailed over his head. The East led 28-12 after three quarters.
The drama wasn’t quite done, however.
St. Francis quarterback Quinton Cravens hit Heskamp for a 23-yard score with 1:40 to play. A failed two-point conversion prevented the West from making it a one-possession game before recovering an onside kick.
The West eventually turned it over on downs and saw Van Laeys take a knee, running off the final 37 seconds.
“We could’ve played better, but it was all about the experience,” Cravens said.
Regardless of outcome, athletes on both sides enjoyed their final eight-man experience.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Van Laeys said. “I was really looking forward to coming and playing one more game, but I didn’t know it would be that much fun to come out and compete with these guys.”
“It was fun,” Cravens added. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal. It’s an honor to be here.”
While Grabast has more football in front of him in the Shrine Bowl and at McPherson College, the eight-man ending was a good one.
“It was awesome,” Grabast said. “These last five days, I got to meet a lot a bunch of new guys, great guys.”