Lorenzo Williams runs a sweep in Saturday’s Class 9A state semifinal game against Leola-Frederick. The Warbirds fell 38-34. PHOTO COURTESY JOHN DAVIS/ABERDEEN AMERICAN NEWS
LEOLA — In a game that featured six touchdown plays of more than 45 yards, it all came down to a defensive stop Saturday night.
Leola-Frederick turned back Wolsey-Wessington on the 2-yard line on the final play of the game to secure a thrilling 38-34 semifinal win during the Class 9A football playoffs.
When the Titans’ Carston Hertel tackled Wolsey-Wessington quarterback Larenzo Williams for no gain, it set off a major celebration, sending Leola-Frederick to the state championship game for the first time since Frederick won it all in 1982.
“It’s the best thing ever,” said an emotional Hertel following the victory.
The senior thought Williams would try a sneak up the middle, but instead the elusive signal caller took off running.
“He went to the outside. I think it was the option,” Hertel said. “I just jumped and I grabbed him at the legs and I stopped him.”
The play was eerily similar to one that ended up costing Leola-Frederick in the playoffs in the past.
“All I was thinking was a couple of years ago when we had Viborg-Hurley in the same situation and they made the play and this year we finally made the play,” said Titans coach Marty Morlock. “It feels good.”
It appeared that Leola-Frederick had the game well in hand, leading 38-18 with 8 minutes left. The Warbirds had other ideas, fighting all the way to the end and giving themselves a chance on the final play.
“It was an incredible game,” said Wolsey-Wessington coach Gordon Hooks. “Hats off to those guys. They came out and hit us in the mouth. We responded there in the fourth quarter and came back, and we came up two yards short.”
It was a contest filled with big plays throughout.
Ryne Johnson put the visitors in front on a 54-yard run, but Hertel responded with a 19-yard TD.
The Titans were on the verge of scoring again when Williams picked off a pass and raced 98 yards for a touchdown.
Leola-Frederick’s Justin Helland then turned in a big play of his own with a 60-yard punt return.
“You just get that second gear to go,” Helland said of his big return.
After a Wolsey-Wessington turnover, Logan Weisser than padded the Titans’ lead less than a minute later with a 24-yard run for a 22-12 halftime margin.
Williams seemed to turn the momentum in the third quarter with a 66-yard scoring scamper, but Weisser bolted 91 yards two plays later to keep Leola-Frederick in control.
Weisser finished with 208 yards on 20 carries on the night.
“I was just doing my job,” Weisser said.
Evan Emery then appeared to put the game out of reach with a 22-yard with 8:26 left, but Williams wasn’t finished.
Williams, who rushed for 209 yards in the game, added a 46-yard run and then returned a blocked punt 27 yards for another TD with 3:17 remaining to close the deficit to four points.
“I thought it was going to slip (away) right there,” Weisser said, “but we stood our ground and got the ‘W.’ ”
After stopping the Titans on downs, Wolsey-Wessington had one last chance and drove down the field only to come up just short.
“It was two yards to a touchdown,” Hertel said. “I was so nervous.”
Hooks thought the play was going to work.
“It was there, but give credit to those (Leola-Frederick) kids. They want to win just as bad as we do,” Hooks said. “They came up and made a play and stopped us from getting in.”
As it turned out, two-point conversions proved to the difference with Leola-Frederick making two more than the Warbirds for the final margin of difference.
“They were our Achilles heel a few years ago,” Morlock noted, “and this year they really were huge.”
As a result, Leola-Frederick (11-0) is headed to the DakotaDome in Vermillion where it will meet Potter County at 11 a.m. Thursday for the Class 9A championship. Leola-Frederick defeated Potter County 12-7 earlier in the season.
“At the beginning of the year, with such a heavy senior group, with the experience that we have, there was a lot of pressure to get to that spot,” Morlock said, “and we did ’er.”
Now that the Titans did it, they would like to complete the task.
“We got there. Now we just have to finish,” Helland said, “finish what we started.”
Wolsey-Wessington (10-1)|6 6 6 16—34
Leola-Frederick (11-0)|0 22 8 8—38
W-W — Ryne Johnson 54 run (run failed), 9:39.
L-F — Carston Hertel 19 run (Dane Campbell run), 10:59.
W-W — Larenzo Williams 98 pass interception return (run failed), 6:38.
L-F — Justin Helland 60 punt return (Derrick Podoll pass from Campbell), 1:59.
L-F — Logan Weisser 24 run (pass failed), 1:01.
W-W — Williams 66 run (run failed), 6:29.
L-F — Weisser 91 run (Podoll pass from Campbell), 6:04.
L-F — Evan Emery 22 run (Podoll pass from Campbell), 8:26.
W-W — Williams 46 run (Williams run), 5:47.
W-W — Williams 27 blocked punt return (Williams run), 3:17.
Offensive Statistics: Wolsey-Wessington rushing 55-341 (Williams 28-209), passing 2-7-0 for 32 (Ben Rhue 1-1-0 for 22), receiving (Williams 1-22), first downs 12; Leola-Frederick rushing 43-335 (Weisser 20-208), passing 5-17-1 for 70 (Campbell 5-14-1 for 70), receiving (Weisser 2-48), first downs 15.
Defensive Statistics: Wolsey-Wessington, Johnson 12 tackles, Williams 11 tackles, Dylan Hines 10 tackles, Cole McGehee 10 tackles; Leola-Frederick, Podoll 19 tackles, Austin Hoerner 15 tackles, Nathan Sumption 15 tackles, George Lapka 15 tackles, Matt Weisser 11 tackles.
For the complete article see the 11-10-2013 issue.
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