UPDATE: First time's the charm for Dawson-Boyd
By Tom Larson
MINNEAPOLIS -- Dawson-Boyd football player Esten Weber lugged his weary bones and the Class A championship trophy up a Metrodome ramp on his way to what undoubtedly was an ecstatic Blackjacks locker room.
Weber was feeling the effects of a tough game, a tough season and a thigh bruise that put him down on the Metrodome carpet and briefly took him out of the Blackjacks' game against Mahnomen on Friday. A man pushed a wheelchair into Weber's path and introduced himself and the man in the chair, saying his elderly father just wanted to meet the boy and shake his hand.
That's how high school football binds small communities, and it will be a long time before Weber and his Blackjacks teammates aren't stopped by smiling well-wishers looking to just shake their hands and tell them "Thanks."
The Blackjacks' dreams were mapped out in their youths, in backyards and on the worn grass of playgrounds. Those dreams were realized on the dome's vibrant green plastic turf in the form of a 35-20 win over Mahnomen.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect season that galvanized players and communities.
"A couple times I looked up in the stands and it seemed like there were a lot of people here supporting us," Weber said. "I think they've been more excited about this than we were. During this week people would come up to me and say, 'I'm so nervous for Friday.' I don't even think we were that nervous."
The Blackjacks completed their 14-0 season as the first in school history to earn a spot in the Minnesota state tournament, and they won the game the way they had the 13 that came before it: A tough defense that caused turnovers and a balanced offense that never let opponents key on any individual.
Weber and backfield mate Justin Lee both carried 17 times on Friday, Weber for 90 yards and two touchdowns, and Lee had 87 yards and two scores. For the season, Weber ran for 1,563 yards and 26 touchdowns and Lee rushed for 1,594 yards and 19 TDs.
Quarterback Joey Lee, the star of the Blackjacks' semifinals win with a hand in all seven touchdowns, was back to his quietly efficient self on Friday. He completed 7 of 10 passes for a modest 90 yards. But five of those completions resulted in first downs, and two of his seven rushes also kept the chains moving.
While Mahnomen used its veer offense to outgain the Blackjacks 337 total yards to 281, Dawson-Boyd's Garth Ochsendorf and Nathaniel Huot recovered two fumbles and defensive back Evan Robertson tied a Prep Bowl record with three interceptions. Two of those turnovers resulted in Blackjacks touchdowns.
Dawson-Boyd didn't play like a team that expected to end the season with a loss.
"It's always in the back of your mind during the week," said Robertson, who had five interceptions in the Blackjacks' last two games. "But you forget about it. You want to come out confident."
Even after Mahnomen opened the game with a touchdown, that assured attitude never ebbed.
"We came in with a good plan," Weber said. "Stick to our assignments and it would work. We mostly kept them from making big plays."
"We fully expected that it would take a possession or two to adjust (the Mahnomen's veer attack)," said Blackjacks head coach Cory Larson, "and if we didn't adjust we weren't going to be state champions. We had a few busted assignments but obviously we made the adjustments we needed to make."
And then there was the fan support. In both the Blackjacks' dome games, fans clad in black filled the Dawson-Boyd stands, and the student section were adorned in all manner of costumes and carried so many signs that it appeared they were readying for a Southeastern Conference college game. And, of course, they were nervous.
"It was almost like the community was more into this than we were," said Blackjacks receiver Zach Stelter. "They did so much for us, helping out, donating meals. They were so supportive."
The fans were so in the moment that even as Larson concentrated on the game, he noticed the throng behind the bench.
"Absolutely unbelievable," Larson said. "A couple of times I peeked up in the crowd, and you could just feel their energy."
And by game's end, that and adrenaline were helping to paste perma-smiles on the Blackjacks players. To a person, they had trouble describing the feeling.
"It's hard to grasp," Larson said. "It's hard to get a handle on it that now you're the state champion. It's very surreal. You see coaches on TV after they win a championship and you wonder why they always say they are at a loss for words. Now, I know why."
Larson, his players and coaches probably won't have to search for any words, either. Dawson-Boyd will be happy just to have the chance to offer them a smile, a pat on the back and a thank you.
"I don't know what to say," Weber. "To be the only team in school history to go out on a win in its very last game, it's an unbelievable feeling."
Mahnomen (13-1) 6 0 8 6 -- 20
Dawson-Boyd (14-0) 7 14 0 14 -- 35
Mah - Avery Fairbanks 1 run (run failed)
DB - Joey Lee 1 run (Easton Popma kick)
DB - Esten Weber 5 run (Popma kick)
DB - Justin Lee 2 run (Popma kick)
Mah - Jacob Pavek 1 run (Luke Littlewolf pass from Pavek)
DB - Justin Lee 1 run (Popma kick)
DB - Weber 18 run (Popma kick)
Mah - Pavek 1 run (time expired)
First downs: 15 ... Rushing: 51-268 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 3-8-69-3 ... Fumbles lost: 2 ... Penalties: 3-25
Rushing: Jacob Pavek 20-153, Avery Fairbanks 25-96, Mitch Kochman 2-10, Garrett Hoffner 2-5, Trevor Haugo 2-4 ... Passing: Pavek 3-8-69-3 ... Receiving: Hoffner 1-32, Luke Littlewolf 1-29, Haugo 1-8 ... Punting: Pavek 1-31.0 ... Interceptions: Nathan Hanson 1 ... Fumble recoveries: none ... Tackles: Hanson 8, Aaron Vipond 6, Pavek 6 ... QB sacks: Pavek 1
First downs: 14 ... Rushing: 43-189 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 7-10-92-1 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 6-42
Rushing: Esten Weber 17-90, Justin Lee 17-87, Joey Lee 7-17, Nathaniel Huot 1-(-5) ... Passing: Joey Lee 7-10-92-1 ... Receiving: Huot 3-40, Zach Stelter 3-32, Justin Lee 1-20 ... Punting: Joey Lee 3-31.3 ... Interceptions: Evan Robertson 3 ... Fumble recoveries: Garth Ochsendorf 1, Huot 1 ... Tackles: Esten Weber 10, Stelter 7, Justin Lee 5, Ochsendorf 5, Brendan Schmitt 4, Zach Gritmacker 4, Huot 3, Joey Lee 3, Brock Kemen 2, Robertson 2, Mike Bothun 2, Matt Stratmoen 2, Jack Hansen 1, Josh Wagner 1, Aaron Tufto 1, Eric Gabrielson 1 ... QB sacks: none