Such will be the case, I believe, with the classic 2011 prep football battle between Lincoln/Washington in a jaw-dropping President Bowl matchup early in the season. Lincoln's 37-36 come-from-behind victory ranks among the best ever, at least from this prep observer.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about the prep football season and how the state championships included just one game that went to the wire (Tri-Valley's 18-14 win over McCook Central/Montrose in 11B). As we carried on the discussion, the talk centered on the best games of the year, including the pulsating finish turned out in the Washington/Lincoln game at the President's Bowl.
The week two encounter featured a two-time defending champion, ranked #1, on a 27-game winning streak against a third-ranked team that had arguably the AA's most explosive offense with one of the state's greatest-ever quarterbacks trying to leave his own legacy. The game featured big special teams plays, long TD passes and runs, and a few "lay-it-on-the-line" decisions by coaches.
I am sure others will recall games that remain forever etched in the their own memory bank, also entwined in intrique. So, while opinions may vary on "greatest-ever games," I believe everyone will agree that this game needs its place on the list.
In the classic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upsS9X_JxeA, SF Lincoln rallied for a victory when quarterback Alex Schultz connected with Josh Kunzman on the game’s final play to create a tie; and won it when Patriots kicker Adam Belhaj added the extra point. The Warriors' 27-game winning streak, which was the ninth best in state history, had dated to another loss to Lincoln, 27-20 in the state AA title game in 2008.
It is noteworthy that the game was played essentially on a neutral field. Lincoln and Washington both play home game at venerable Howard Wood Stadium. So, the home field advantage was nil, except for the home placement on the scoreboard and teams' location (and its fans) on the friendly west side.
In breaking down the game, Lincoln, which held a 23-11 edge in first downs, rolled up 437 yards to 301 for Washington. The Patriots rushed for just 25 yards on 16 carries while the Warriors, utilizing the skills of talented senior running back Davonte Clay, had 31 carries for 143 yards, with Clay getting 139 on 23 carries. In essence, the game broke down on Washington's solid ground attack and dynamic special teams play against a Lincoln passing offense that will rank among the top all-time. In 2011, Lincoln rolled up 486 points and scored over 40 points on seven occasions and broke the 50-point mark five times. When the season finished, Lincoln had 3,175 passing yards and 37 TDs.
Lincoln's Schultz, who accumulated 6,782 career yards and 65 TDs in a brilliant career, completed 28-of-49 passes for 393 yards and four TDs in the President's Bowl. His main target was Kunzman, who had a memorable game with 13 receptions for 260 yards and four TDs. The senior wideout ended the year with 128 catches, 2,210 yards receiving and 24 TDs, including 15 in 2011.
Trey Naasz, who finished his career with a state record 199 catches and 2,397 yards and 27 TDs, had 10 catches for 88 yards and also completed a 42-yard pass to Kunzman. On that night, Naasz set the all-time record for receptions, which he continued to add to as the season progressed. For Washington, junior quarterback Jon Hander completed 12-of-19 passes for 158 yards and three TDs, two of them to ace junior receiver Nate Gerry, who finished with 103 yards receiving.
Rewind - The Game
Early on, it didn't appear that this game was going to end up as a points extravanganza. But, oh, my friends, the scoreless first quarter served only as a "feeling out" period. The real drama began to unfold in an explosive second quarter.
Washington was first on the board when wide receiver Keyen Lage hauled in a 12-yard TD pass from Hander with 7:33 left in the first half. Lincoln responded in kind with a nine-play, 60-yard drive as Schultz and Kunzman connected on a 32-yard pass to tie the score. On the ensuing kickoff Clay broke numerous tackles and took it the distance to give Washington back the lead at 14-7. With just 25 seconds left in the first half, the Patriots' Kevin Diaz scored on a one-yard run. However Lincoln's extra point was no good as Washington took a 14-13 lead to halftime.
Diaz's TD seemed to shift the momentum to Lincoln. The Patriots opened the scoring in the second half when Kunzman caught another 32-yard TD pass from Schultz. The Patriots try for two points failed and they led, 19-14. Then, the Patriots again put points on the board with 3:06 left in the third quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Belhaj. It appeared Lincoln was in control, but perception was not reality, as we would experience throughout this September night.
Down just one score (and two-point conversion), the Warriors answered the bell through the big-play prowess of Gerry. Hander's 62-yard TD strike to Gerry, followed by another pass to Gerry on a two-point try, tied the score at 22.
With that play, the "mo" shifted back to Washington as the game head to the fourth quarter tied.
Early in the 4th quarter Hander and Gerry took advantage of a short field, collaborating on a 28-yard pitch and catch for a 29-22 advantage. A short while later, Clay rambled 41 yards for his 2nd TD (KO return earlier) of the game as the Warriors lead grew to 36-22.
With nine minutes left, Lincoln had a huge hill to climb. And, they were facing a Washington team that had dominated the series since that 2008 championship, outscoring the Patriots to the tune of 159 to 33.
Still, this Washington defense was young in spots and would go through some growing pains in the early parts of the season. The Warriors were led by Devon O'Farrell (13 tackles), one of the state's top linebackers, and Gerry, but had a group of newbies trying their hand at extending the tradition of excellence on the defensive side.
Schultz, who would throw for 2,991 yards in 2011 after a junior campaign of 2,950 yards, was a poised leader, as he exhibited on this night and throughout the season. He took Lincoln on a eight-play, 73-yard scoring drive that culminated on a seven-yard TD throw to Naasz with about four minutes to go.
Down 36-28, Lincoln Coach Aaron Beavers gambled that his team could convert a two-point conversion. Convert they did, Schultz to Nick Goeman to draw within 36-30.
With just four minutes to play, the Patriots stilled needed to find a way to get the ball back against a Washington team that had enjoyed success running the ball. They did, perhaps buoyed by a bit of good luck.
With under two minutes left, Washington picked up seven yards on a first-down run by Clay. However, a second down run did not dent the line of scrimmage and a third down pass was unsuccessful. WHS Coach Brian Hermansen left his offense on the field in a ploy to get the Patriots to jump offsides. If successful the Warriors would be able to run out the clock and pick up its 28th straight win. And, the move paid off as Hander's hard count induced the Patriots' front line to jump offsides. There it was, a great move by a wily coach.
Lincoln's Beavers apparently sensed something was amiss and that his players may be a little "jumpy."
Just before play broke, and a penalty was whistled, Beavers asked for a timeout. With Washington celebrating, the officials said the play had been blow dead just before the snap.
Beaver's last second timeout paid off as Washington had to either try a fourth down deep from its own territory or punt. Hermansen chose to punt, which set up the game-winning heroics by Schultz and Kunzman. With the ball on their own 41-yard line and just over a minute to play, Schultz orchestrated the drive that that ended Washington's winning streak and propelled the Patriots into the #1 ranking in AA on the following Monday.
A little reflection on Washington’s 27-game streak. During that run, the Warrriors were 8-0 vs. Sioux Falls schools, including a 315-81 points advantage. Against Lincoln, they owned a 159-33 edge. They outscored O’Gorman 103-35 (three games) and Roosevelt 53-13 (two games). Overall, Washington outscored all opponents, 1,183 to 177 or a 43.81 to 6.5 points per game. Also in the streak, the Warriors had 10 shutouts while scoring 40 or more points 16 times and breaking 50 on eight occasions.
After the sun set: For Lincoln, 2011 was a season of excitement, which included a #1 ranking, #1 seed in the playoffs, advancement into the semifinals and an 8-3 record. Along the way, they were involved in two other games that many remember, a 29-28 win over O'Gorman that elevated the Patriots to the top seed in the AA playoffs. They also lost a one-point encounter, 50-49, at Mitchell when they led late only to see the Kernels rally at the end. Lincoln's season ended in the AA semifinals where Washington was able to exact a little revenge in a 42-7 win.
Washington, the two-time defending champions, was the #1 ranked team as the season opened. Coach Hermansen and his troops were looking to become the first AA school to win three straight titles. The Warriors, which suffered heavy graduation losses from the previous year, would make a run at a third title, but fall just short. Washington's season ended in defeat as Sioux Falls Roosevelt broke from a 17-17 second quarter tie and took a 31-17 victory in the AA championship at the DakotaDome. Washington, which had defeated Roosevelt, 34-29, in the regular season finale to end the Rough Riders unbeaten run, began the season 1-2; reeled off eight straight wins before falling to the Rough Riders in the title game. It was Washington's fifth straight championship appearance, unprecedented in AA playoff history. Roosevelt won its third title.
Overall, the city schools beat up on each other in 2011. Roosevelt was the king with four wins in five games against city foes. They defeated O'Gorman, 19-14 (President's Bowl) and 23-16 in the state playoff semifinals. The Rough Riders also recorded a 45-29 win over Lincoln in a #1 vs. #2 matchup in week three. They split with Washington as previously noted. O'Gorman finished 1-3 vs. its Sioux Falls brethren, which is far from the norm. The Knights, which own a AA-best eight playoff championships, lost twice to Roosevelt, defeated Washington, 24-7, in week three, and lost a 29-28 heart-breaker to Lincoln in the last game of the regular season. Lincoln was 2-2 with wins over Washington and O'Gorman, in somewhat miraculous comebacks. In total, five of the in-city matchups were decided by a TD or less.
Other "Great" Games in 2011 --
Sioux Falls Lincoln was involved in three "fantastic finishes," or games decided by one point in the final minute. In my list of other great games (no particular order) Lincoln makes the list twice.
Lincoln 29 O'Gorman 28. Lincoln ended a 31-game losing streak against O'Gorman with the 29-28 come-from-behind win on the final day of the regular season. The victory, as noted early, produced the top seed in the AA playoffs and a first-round bye. Against OG, Lincoln jumped to a 21-7 lead only to have O'Gorman score 21 unanswered second half points for a 28-21 advantage. Then, Schultz and Naasz found magic at the game's close. On a fourth-down play, Schultz scrambled until he found Naasz on a TD pass with 15 seconds to play. Down by one, Head Coach Aaron Beavers asked his team if they wanted to go for it. He told the Argus Leader: "We've done it for three years with these guys, so we were pretty set on it. We were telling jokes in the huddle." On the two-point conversion, Schultz connected with Naasz on the two-point conversion on a pass in the left side of the end zone. Fourth-ranked Lincoln had their win and the end of a long losing streak to the Knights. Schultz completed 23-of-37 passes for 230 yards while Naasz had eight catches for 68 yards and Kunzman had nine receptions for 54 yards. LHS's Nick Goeman also caught five passes for 101 yards. O'Gorman fought back in the second half on the strength of 146 rushing yards from Sam Steffl, who would end his career second on the all-time rushing list at O'Gorman.
Roosevelt 38 Brandon Valley 37. I am not sure how anyone watching prep football wouldn't included this playoff encounter. Especially given that Roosevelt, which ultimately won the AA title, was the second seed in the playoffs but had to rally down 13 points to edge a big underdog in Brandon Valley, perhaps the hottest team in the class at that point in the season. After Roosevelt stormed to a 14-0 lead in the opening quarter, Brandon Valley, which finished 7-4, rallied with an exposive passing attack. With Chase Marso completing 24-of-41 passes for 366 yards and five TDs, BV was able to build a 34-21 lead in the third quarter. Three of Marso's TDs went to junior Matt Vandeberg, who had nine catches for 202 yards. After Roosevelt had cut the Brandon Valley lead to 37-35, Roosevelt DB Andrew Smith made the biggest play of the night for Roosevelt, when he stripped Vandeberg of the ball as the Rough Riders recovered at their own 46-yard line with just under four minutes to play. From their Roosevelt patiently work the ball deep inside BV territory where kicker Derek Granum connected in the game's final moments. Roosevelt senior QB Scott Tyler completed 18 of 24 passes for 289 yards. To recap the scoring, Smith had a one-yard run to open the scoring for RHS and a Brett Ledeboer interception return for a score built a 14-0 lead for Roosevelt. Shortly thereafter, the momentum shifted when BV linebacker Adam Guthmiller forced a fumble by Tyler deep in Lynx territory. Almost immediately, Marso and Vandeberg connected on a 72-yard pitch and catch for a TD. Roosevelt answered on a seven-yard TD run. However BV cut the deficit to 21-13 on a TD throw to Nate Winter with 3:46 left in the half. After stuffing Roosevelt on a 4th and one, Brandon crawled within 21-19 just before halftime when Trevor Crow had an eight-yard TD reception. BV continued to apply pressure to Roosevelt as Guthmiller had an interception which was turned into an 11-yard TD strike from Marso to Vandeberg and a 26-21 lead. Soon thereafter, Roosevelt had a bad punt and BV answered again with a Marso to Vandeberg 51-yard TD with 5:37 left in the third quarter. Roosevelt finally responded with a 4th TD pass to Smith as they cut the deficit to 34-28. But Marso later hit a FG from 29-yard for a 37-28 lead. Roosevelt drew within 37-35 when Smith had a 15-yard scoring run with 7:55 to play. Then Smith had the big defensive play to set up Granum's place-kicking heroics at the end.
Chester 42 Howard 41: Not a lot of fans likely remember this 9AA week two encounter. Yet, Chester found a win to get a road win. Austin Opdahl hit Devin Smith with a TD pass with 11 seconds to play and with Josh Curtis' extra point, the Flyers had a 42-41 decision over Howard. Opdahl had 129 yards rushing and Austin Dossett had a pair of kickoff returns for TDs. Tied at 35 entering the final quarter, Howard received a six-yard TD run from Evan Donohue with 1:48 left in the game for a 41-35 lead. Donohue had 99 yards rushing and Ethan Cavigielli had 100 yards on the ground while Donovan Kullnat threw two TD passes and had 109 yards passing for Howard, who weren't able to hold on against Chester.
Yankton 34 Mitchell 29. In an ESD battle, Yankton rallied for a 34-29 win against rival Mitchell on the road. Yankton quarterback Michael Rucker connected with Connor Fitzsimmons on a 24-yard TD strike with 2:39 to play for the score that proved to be the difference. Mitchell crossed midfield on the ensuing possession, a week after upsetting Lincoln, 50-49, but had a drive stall out. Fitzsimmons had eight receptions for 96 yards and 14 carries for 64 yards and two TDs. Rucker completed 15-of-20 passes for 174 yards and had 43 yards rushing and a score. Mitchell was paced by Jason Greenway with 143 yards and two TDs.
Mitchell 50 Lincoln 49: In some people's minds, I'm betting, this game should also rate as a classic. The Kernels overcame a late 13-point lead and won a 50-49 decision in a game held up midway through the game by lightning. Mitchell led 21-7 and then the game was tied at 29-29 at halftime. Lincoln to a 49-36 lead after a Caden Quintanilla TD with 2:20 to play. However, the Patriots failed on a two-point conversion. Then Jason Greenway, who had three TDs and 203 yards rushing, took a kick off back 79 yards for a TD. Following a successful onside kick, Mitchell scored on Brett Havlik's two-yard run with 40 seconds left capped off a 21-6 scoring advantage for Mitchell in the final quarter. Lincoln could not move the ball past midfield in the last moments of the game. Alex Schultz had 228 yards passing on 17-of-43 with a pair of TDs. Quintanilla had 132 yards rushing and Diaz had 92 and two TDs. Kunzman had 85 yards receiving and a 13-yard TD reception in the second quarter. Mitchell's Eric Bortnem had 75 yards receiving on two catches, both TDs (29, 46). Havlik was 12-of-18 for 198 yards, two TDs throwing and one by rush.
Sully Buttes 36 Gettysburg 34: As a former Battler, I didn't want to include this but...Sully Buttes comeback was impressive. Herman Kleinsasser caught a 25-yard TD pass from Conner Uhlir as time expired to lift third-ranked Sully Buttes to a 36-34 win over arch-rival Gettysburg on Oct. 8. Gettysburg/Hoven had scored with 58 second remaining on a Hayden Simon scoring run from four yards. Kleinsasser, who was part of each TD for Sully Buttes, which rallied down 21-8. The 100-yard sprint champion from Class B, Kleinsasser had 165 yards rushing and 2 TDs, 69 yards receiving and two TDs and had a returned punt for a fifth TD. Tate Nafziger rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown and also threw for 146 yards and two TDs to power Gettysburg-Hoven.
Tri-Valley 21 Dell Rapids 14: In a #1 vs. #1 battle, 11B Tri-Valley defeated 11A Dell Rapids, 21-14, in Dell Rapids. In the game's final moments, Dell Rapids' quarterback Channing Barber threw a deep pass from midfield to Weston Hansen, who appeared to have dual possession with Mustangs Riley Brown. The officials ruled in Tri-Valley's favor, that it was an interception, and with it a Mustangs win. That play came moments after Barber had a 54-yard TD run called back due to a holding penalty. Dell Rapids, which played without standout Cole Langer, had a 15-game winning streak come to a halt with the loss. Barber, who had 138 yards rushing, scoring on a 17-yard run and a 40-yard scoring scamper. The Mustangs had a 10-yard TD run by Andrew Buchmann, a 20-yard TD pass from Brett Page to Dominick Burggraff that tied the game at 14 heading to halftime. The Mustangs took a seven-point lead on a two-yard TD run by Sam Mader with 2:55 left in the third quarter. Mader, who was filling in for Tri-Valley's standout running back Cooper Hausman out due to illness, had 79 yards on 19 carries.
Tri-Valley 18 McCook Central 14. Tri-Valley's Dominick Burggraff
Canistota 34 Bridgewater/Emery/Ethan 26. While 9A Canistota and 9AA Bridgewater/Emery/Ethan would go on to win titles in their respective classes, this early season battle pitted two of the 9-man powers. Canistota, which finished 12-0 and now owns a state-best 24-game winning streak, recorded a defensive stop late in the game to claim the win over BEE at the FCA Bowl in Sioux Falls on Sept. 3. Canistota junior quarterback Cody Bunger, who would throw for 948 yards and rush for 1,192 during the season, had a big night. He rushed for 129 yards, including two rushing TDs and one by pass. His 42-yard scoring run opened the scoring and his 11-yard run with 6:25 left culminated the Hawks scoring, providing them with a 34-18 lead. After Bunger's late score, BEE answered on Kendall Lindeman's 12-yard TD run, which capped a six-play 69-yard drive. When quarterback Jace Connor hit Ryan Hanks on a two-point conversion pass, the Seahawks trailed by just eight. Canistota followed with a three-and-out. BEE, which ran off 10 straight wins to end the season and won its fifth 9AA title, took the ball to the Canistota 20-yard line when a 4th and 8 pass by Connor was incomplete. The Hawks finished with 323 rushing yards. Lindeman, who would rush for 1,947 yards during the season, led the Seahawks' rushing attack with 203 yards on 23 carries and scored BEE's first TD with 36 seconds left in the first half. Troy Hofer had 18 tackles, an interception and 108 yards rushing with two TDs. BEE's Anthony Huber had 103 rushing yards on 19 carries and 10 tackles.