Undefeated and heading into the bye-week, both teams could lay it on the line. With the chance that the winner could leapfrog Bismarck Century for #1 in the state with a win, it was all the more likely that each team would give their best effort from kickoff through the final horn.
Not to give too much away, but that's pretty much exactly what we got!
Shanley opened the game with the ball and had a coach's dream drive. It took 6.5 minutes off the clock and concluded with Aidan DeVine scoring the first points of the evening.
In-kind, Sheyenne used the rest of the first quarter with their first chance. Grant Warkenthien also finished the drive with a touchdown pass, to their power forward playing wide receiver, Jah'Heem Leake. The seconds that remained on the clock expired during the ensuing kickoff.
In their second go, Shanley sped up considerably but with the same result - a touchdown pass from Cooper Mattern to DeVine. And then again, the Mustangs countered.
It was only a matter of time before the state's best running back flashed his talents. A 61-yard catch & run touchdown by Barika Kpeenu included just about all of them.
The only miss came when Emmet Kenney's kick from 45 yards out went just left of the uprights to keep it a 14 all game.
That small opening was more than enough for the #2 team in the state. Sheyenne's third possession finished the way that the first had, in the mitts of Leake. But instead of taking the traditional 1 point after, coach Newton dialed up another play for his offense. The attempt ended up in the hands of Zach Moser and he was not about to be denied.
Now down eight, Shanley had to bounce back with limited time left and the knowledge that Sheyenne could run away with the game in the second half depending on how the remaining time went. And when the time came for the next big play, it was Carter Kochmann's turn to represent. From 31 yards out he made good on yet another pass to finish the half in a 1-point game, 22-21.
The Deacons kept it rolling with a turnover-on-downs to early in the third, which they cashed in for a 56-yard touchdown by none other than Aidan DeVine. The six-point lead that that provided them was as short-lived as it could have been.
As Barika Kpeenu waited a few paces from his team's end zone, the ball came flying through the air. The kickoff not being bombed beyond reach proved to the biggest mistake of the night. After securing the ball, Kpeenu bobbed, weaved, dipped and ran for all 96 yards to emphatically reclaim the momentum for his side.
Shanley added to the swell with a fumble that preluded a Grant Warkenthien keeper to go ahead 36-28 just before the scoreboard flipped again.
In the fourth quarter, Kenney got the highlight of the evening. A play that will not soon be bested.
But Shanley remained behind by five, because this isn't fantasy football.
On the next possession the Mustang offense put the final nail in as Kpeenu danced his way in for one last touchdown to put his team ahead by 12 with less than 4.5 minutes remaining.
With an offense that can score with any given play, that's still plenty of time. Except when the defense gets sacks on two of the four downs. Abe Hestdalen took Mattern down on the first play and Kole Menz finished them off with a third-down sack which forced a desperation heave that ended in the hands of a blue jersey.
Shanley's last gasp came as Sheyenne was on the two-yard line. John Gores came through with a strip which his team managed to gain possession of. And in 'build for the future' fashion, the red team drove 98 yards for the final points of the evening - a two-yard plunge by Mattern to make it 43-38. With the recovery of an onside kick they may have been able to complete comeback but the ball didn't bounce in their favor on the try.
So the game ended with a snap & a kneel.
Sheyenne 43, Shanley 38
Given the stakes and the talent on each roster, it's no surprise that there isn't one obvious choice this time. Jah'Heem Leake, Barika Kpeenu, Aidan DeVine, Emmet Kenney, it could be argued that all were up to the task tonight.
But the straw that stirs the winning drink gets the nod.
Click the pic to see the game gallery!