WILLMAR — It will go down as one of the best local prep football games of the season, but Willmar's contest against St. Cloud Apollo on Friday night at Hodapp Field lacked just one quality that the Cardinals desired: a win for the home team.
The Eagles tied the game on a touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter before edging the Cardinals, 26-24 in double overtime.
Noah Benson found John Sithamat for a seven-yard touchdown on third down for the go-ahead score to open the second extra period for Apollo, which went ahead 26-18 on the ensuing two-point conversion.
Willmar struck right back with a two-yard run by Ethan Roux to stay alive, but the Cardinals needed a two-point conversion of their own to send the Homecoming game into a third overtime.
As was the case again in overtime, the Eagles had the final say.
Following a timeout, Willmar rolled quarterback Drey Dirksen out to the right, looking for a receiver freed by a pair of crossing routes. Apollo blanketed the Cardinals wideouts and eventually swarmed Dirksen as he attempted to extend the play.
Dirksen's desperation heave fell to the ground—as did many Willmar players near the end zone following the marathon game's final play.
The Cardinals appeared to have a stranglehold on the game following a sack by Matt Bengston gave them an 18-12 lead with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
This time, Apollo's answer came in the form of a onside kick.
The Eagles managed to recover the kick to keep their hopes alive at their own 30-yard line, although Willmar's sideline was looking for a flag for a potential illegal touch before the ball traveled 10 yards.
After the Cardinals defense quickly forced a fourth down, Apollo yet again had a response. Two big pass plays later, the Eagles found themselves at the Willmar 12-yard line with 28 seconds to go.
John Sithamat hauled in an over-the-shoulder grab to tie the game at 18 with 22 seconds remaining, but Apollo's potential game-winning extra point went wide left—its second such missed kick on the night.
Dirksen fumbled on the first snap of the overtime period while attempting to gain extra yardage on a run, but the Cardinals extended the game by blocking Apollo's game-winning field goal attempt.
Schannon Spears Jr., who caught a 51-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, put the Eagles ahead with a seven-yard reception to open the second overtime. This time, Apollo made the decision to go for two rather than kick as they had done all game.
That maneuver proved to be the difference in the game, as Willmar's two-point attempt failed following Roux's touchdown run.
For the Cardinals, it marked their second loss in a row, dropping their season record to .500 at 3-3.
The Eagles improved to 3-3 with the win.
Noah Slagter hauled in passes from Dirksen for both of Willmar's regulation touchdowns and added an interception, as well.
Slagter's first touchdown capped the Cardinals' first drive in which they had no troubles moving the ball. After that, though, it was tough sledding for Willmar, which recorded nine first downs and 242 total yards of offense.
Apollo quarterback Noah Benson put his team ahead in the third quarter with a 38 yard run and finished with 230 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
SC Apollo 26, Willmar 24
St. Cloud Apollo (3-3) 6 0 6 6 0 8 — 26
Willmar (3-2) 8 0 0 8 0 6 — 24
W — Noah Slagter 9 pass from Drey Dirksen (Dirksen run)
S— Schannon Spears 51 pass from Neal Benson (conversion failed)
S - Benson 38 run (conversion failed)
W — Slagter 2 pass from Dirksen (Slagter pass from Dirksen)
W — Matt Bengston safety
S — John Sithamat 12 pass from Benson (kick failed)
S — Spears 7 pass from Benson (Sithamat pass from Benson)
W — Roux 2 run (conversion failed)
St. Cloud Apollo
First downs: 15 ... Penalties: 4-45 ... Rushing (Individual and team): Nick Gill 10-50, Benson 17-63. 40-162 ... Passing (Individual and team): Benson 15-35-230-3 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Spears 5-146, Sithamat 4-53. 15-230 ... Interceptions: None ... Fumble recoveries: Blommer 1 ... Tackles (solo-assist): Sithamat 6, Gill 4-3 ... QB sacks:
First downs: 9 ... Penalties: 2-15 ... Rushing (Individual and team): Dirksen 21-107, Roux 14-39, Caleb Owens 3-13. 37-169 ... Passing (Individual and team): Dirksen 12-29-73-0 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Slagter 4-28, Caleb Ditmarson 3-25, Nick Prokosch 3-9, Ryan Slette 2-13 ... Interceptions: Ty Roelofs 2, Slagter 1 ... Fumble recoveries: Taylor Tjaden 1 ... Tackles (solo-assist): Bryce Erickson 2-8, Jake Evans 3-4, Gibran Moreno 1-7, Hamza Mohamed 0-8, Tjaden 0-5, Andrew Reigstad 2-4 ... QB sacks: Bengston 1