A Hollywood Sendoff
Sports stories are everywhere. Whether on the big screen, the living room tv or on your phone, there are great moments in sports nearly every day. Many of the best get movies made about them. My favorite may be the one about the titans and the four letter networks series of "30" documentaries may one day include a special about NDSU's run of dominance.
I can't say that the events that I'm about to type about will get that level of treatment but the way it unfolded was not unlike a story written for Hollywood use.
Don't believe me? Check the check's
✔ One of the best rivalries in the state
✔ An early lead, followed by a comeback
✔ The comeback team playing their last game before moving to the highest division in ND
✔ Late drama
It checks all the boxes!
But that's the cliff notes, you'll have to continue on for the full story!
The game started slowly with a three & out punt by Saint Mary's and a turnover one downs by Shanley after a single first down. The game ramped up in a hurry after that though.
On third & medium the Saints dialed up a pass from Drew Dosch to Connor Puetz, that went 67 yards to the house in a couple blinks of any eye. A 7-0 hole isn't too much to overcome though and Shanley's proven all year that they can score.
On the first play of their next chance, quarterback Cade Busek did what had done so often this year & would do so many times afterward - pulled the ball down to run it himself. The thing that made it different was that as he made his moves forward, the ball ended up on the turf & in the arms of Reece Barnhardt for Saint Mary's.
So the Saints offense went back to work with a short field. Two plays later they were at the four, after a 31 yard reception by Ben Schmidt. Three plays after that Cullen Curl put the ball in the end zone from one yard away. Seven minutes into the game and it was a 14 advantage to the squad from Bismarck.
That didn't rattle the Deacons from their game plan. Lead by a combination of Busek & Austin Manuel, the red clad carried the ball to the other end of the field but between midfield & the red zone, the offense stalled.
The defense for Shanley came to play and in almost no time at all had forced another Saints punt. The offense still needed to manufacture a spark to get themselves started though. The championship pedigree of Troy Mattern's staff showed up on the first play of the drive.
After the snap, Busek handed the ball off to Talon Hoffer on a sweep, who in turn pulled up to make a cross field pass to a wide open Manuel running down field. That covered nearly 40 yards of turf but more importantly, was the catalyst that the offense needed to turn the momentum & stay in the fight. Following that they continued to push the ball but were once again stymied on a fourth down play.
Both defense's represented well for their teams with a pair of punts by Saint Mary's & yet another turnover on downs by Shanley before the Deacons got the ball back with a couple minutes remaining.
Busek started off with another throw to his reliable running back Austin Manuel. That tandem continued to give fits to the Saints defense on the way to a goal line appearance. It took three tries but that was the trick they needed to cut the deficit in half.
With under a minute remaining, Saint Mary's played for a possible broken tackle but merely ran the clock out.
After halftime the Deacons picked up right where they had left off. Carter Kochmann took the first handoff for 60 yards in which he ran for something like 80 yards. If it had happened in a big time college or a NFL game it would have been a top 10 play. After that it was Busek & Manuel again, with Manuel being the one to finish the drive off.
After a single first down, the Saints offense was the one going nowhere.
Shanley on the otherhand, took the ball back & began to hammer away. Five straight runs moved them beyond midfield before they attempted a pass. Then came another seven runs of eight plays. The majority of the 12 runs were carries by Cade Busek. The ninth carry by the senior was good for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
With under 14 minutes remaining in the game, the Saints offense just looked to be back to a shade of how they had been playing early. Consecutive run plays for negative yardage preceded a sack by Joe Kava to end the third quarter.
One play into the fourth quarter and a potential dagger play had gone on the board. A 58 yard scamper by Austin Manuel made it 28 unanswered points for the Deacons.
As if he hadn't done enough already, Busek came back on defense & recorded a sack to force another punt by Saint Mary's.
The Saint's defense wasn't done making plays though, as they forced & recovered another fumble on the ensuing possession.
One play later and the ball was back in the hands of a Shanley player, this time it was Haley Bucholz with an interception.
But then another another fumble a few plays after that to keep Saint Mary's chance's on life support. It played out like a script for a movie!
The Saints didn't squander this chance, Drew Dosch came up big again with a 71 yard run for six. That left seven minutes on the clock, so a tie was very much in play!
Saint Mary's defense forced another punt and the offense strung some completions together but 38 yards away, they stalled for the last time.
The turnover on downs and Shanley could run out the clock to finish their run of excellence in AA as champions. It took more of the same from their key players to close it out but with each snap, the volume from the west side of the Fargodome grew while the east side's diminished.
The storybook ending. Avenging a championship game loss to these same players one year ago & turning the page to a new chapter for the program.
Congratulations once again Shanley!
Player of the Game
Austin Manuel was tremendous.
The one factor that leads me to go a different direction is that it's player of the game, not just of the offense. I'm giving the edge to the player that was not only great on offense but also made a key play on defense.
Photo of the Game
From 14 down, this was the play that sparked their comeback.
For more photos from the game, click the pic!