The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

July 28, 2013

Pittsburg's Bernhardt comes up big in Shrine Bowl

As Spencer Bernhardt put it, he was “running just to run.”

Bernhardt had just all but clinched the East’s 22-19 victory in the Shrine Bowl on Saturday night at Washburn’s Yager Stadium — thus snapping a seven-year West winning streak — with an interception in the end zone with just 1:33 remaining.

“After that play everybody was screaming and I was getting mauled,” he said. “Halfway through the celebration my helmet got pulled down over my eyes and I couldn’t see a thing, I was just running to run.”

It was fitting that Bernhardt, a Pittsburg High School graduate, came up with the heroics that sealed the East’s skid-busting win.

The last time the East topped the West was 2005, when another Purple Dragon, Kerry Meier, played hero.

Meier, who would later star on the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks Orange Bowl squad, led the East to a game-winning touchdown drive that started with just 41 seconds left. After a 33-yard pass to Andre Jones, Meier scored from two yards out to give the East a 17-10 win after the West had just tied the game on a 30-yard field goal.

“To have my name tied to any of the Meier guys is the best honor anyone can have in Pittsburg,” Bernhardt said of the football family that has put three sons into NCAA Division I and two into the NFL. “It’s just a rich tradition at Pittsburg. We’ve had 52 players in the Shrine Bowl, third-most in the state, and its an honor to help carry that on.”

Bernhardt, who will continue his career this fall at Pittsburg State, played every snap in the defensive secondary. He finished with four tackles, including three solo.

His interception came after East had taken a a 22-19 lead with 3:04 remaining on a halfback pass from Conley Wilkins to Austin Moses.

The West quickly drove to the East’s 18-yard line and called time out.

“We had been playing zone but when they called a timeout our defensive backs coach switched us to man,” Bernhardt said.

The West then lined up in trips formation with Bernhardt alone on the weak side of the field.

“I just started backpedaling and I took a peak at the quarterback,” Bernhardt said. “He rolls the other way and then I see his feet stop and he comes back my way. I found my receiver, the ball went up and I just went up and got it.”

The pass was from Bishop Carroll graduate Zeke Palmer, who will play for junior college power Butler Community College this fall.

“It was indescribable,” Bernhardt said of the play. “I’ve known other players from Pittsburg who played in the Shrine Bowl during the streak. They all wanted to be the ones to snap it and for me to be able to be a part of that was one of the best feelings.

“It was the most fun I’ve had in a football game in a long time.”

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