Running with the ball in one photo is Carter Ahlers (no 6). The other photo is of Luke Gassman being congratulated by Terrance Elder on his game tying touchdown catch as signaled by the referees.
Fliers first state football title has a wild ending
By Ryan Woodard
Fans of the National Football League are familiar with what became known as “The Catch.” On that play, Dwight Clark of the San Francisco 49ers caught a touchdown pass from Joe Montana in the back of the end zone to seal a victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1982 NFC Championship Game.
The play that helped seal the first state championship in Flier football history could very well be deemed “The Tip.”
Luke Gassman caught a tipped pass in the end zone to tie the score with 13 seconds left and Nic Behrens kicked the game-winning extra point as Flandreau (11-1) defeated Mobridge-Pollock 28-27 Friday in the Class 11B state championship game at the DakotaDome.
Gassman may have summed up the victory best.
“I never could have expected this happening,” he said while being bombarded by congratulatory fans after the game. “It was a good way to end it.”
A win in the 11B title game turned out to be anything but easy for the Fliers, who found themselves down 27-21 with just 1:13 remaining and a first-and-10 at the Mobridge-Pollock 14-yard line in a wild, turnover-filled fourth quarter.
Flandreau quarterback Joe Parsley threw two straight incompletions and was sacked on third down, giving the Fliers a fourth-and-13 at the Mobridge-Pollock 17 with no timeouts and the clock running. Parsley was hurried again on fourth down, but this time he pulled the ball down and weaved his way through the Tiger defense before crashing into a pair of defenders for a first down at the 4-yard-line with 18.7 seconds left.
On the next play, Parsley faked to fullback Carter Ahlers, rolled left and saw Jacob Patterson running an out route in front of him.
But Parsley threw it high, and Patterson was only able to get a hand on it, tipping the ball into the air behind him.
That turned out to be just enough.
Gassman, a senior split end, happened to be behind his teammate and dove under the ball and caught it with 13 seconds left to tie the game at 27.
"I saw it go up in the air and my eyes just got big and it seemed to hang there forever. And (I) was up in the right spot at the right time I guess," Gassman said.
After kicker Nic Behrens nudged the extra point over the uprights, Flandreau took the lead at 28-27 and sealed the school's first state football championship.
"On that fourth down when Joe took off I thought, 'Oh, I don't know if that's the right thing to do,' but he found another gear and he got the first down. And boy, amazing catch off the tip, too," said Fliers head coach Chad Stadem.
Asked what was going through his head during the final drive, Ahlers, whose 129 yards and two touchdowns earned him Joe Robbie Most Valuable Player and also the South Dakota Coaches’ Association Outstanding Back of the game, laughed. "I don't know. A lot of things were going through it," he said. "It was pretty crazy. I had confidence in our team to get the job done and that's what we did. We just got it done."
Flandreau's final drive signified the end of a fourth quarter sequence that featured three turnovers in a span of about four minutes.
Mobridge-Pollock had driven 61 yards down the field in nine plays to take a 27-21 lead on an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dexter Netterville to wideout Bailley Friesz with 8:11 remaining in a game.
On the Fliers’ next drive, Flandreau was able make its way to the Tiger 43, but a fumbled exchange between Parsley and Ahlers was recovered by Mobridge-Pollock’s Cameron Fish. However, the Tigers would have plenty of miscues as the rest of the game unfolded, including on their next possession.
Netterville fumbled the snap on first-and-10, and got the ball back after being swarmed by a group of Fliers. But Tiger running back Justin Dienert caught and fumbled a second down screen pass, and the ball was recovered by Patterson to give Flandreau a first down at the Mobridge-Pollock 38.
The Fliers took the ball as far as the Mobridge-Pollock 30 before a Parsley pass was picked off in the end zone by Netterville. The Tigers couldn't get much offense going after getting the ball at their own 20, and were forced to punt from their own 24.
But another miscue cost Mobridge-Pollock in a big way, as the snap to punter Anton Bengtsson was low, and he wasn’t able to get the kick off before being engulfed by a group of Fliers at the Tigers' 14.
That gave Flandreau the ball at the Mobridge-Pollock 14 with just over a minute to come back.
Parsley said he saw an opening on the big fourth down run and took it. He said he got some big blocks downfield to help his cause.
"I just saw they had a lot of guys dropped back into coverage," Parsley said. "Our guys were pretty much all covered from what I could see. But had some open ground in front of me so I just took off."
Parsley was relieved to see his teammate come up with the ball on the next play, which was deemed a “Youtube Sensation” by a South Dakota Public Television commentator during the game. It had already been viewed nearly 1,500 times on Youtube by Monday.
"With Gassman, you know, that's just a great hustle play by him getting behind the ball in case you know you get a tip or something like that. And he was just in the right spot at the right time. And got the touchdown," Parsley said.
The Fliers, who gutted out a tough playoff run with close wins over Aberdeen Roncalli and Tri-Valley after largely breezing through their regular season, faced a fast and athletic Mobridge-Pollock squad that made big plays throughout the game.
Flandreau took the lead early in the first quarter. An eight-play, 63-yard Flier drive on the first possession of the game was capped by a 12-yard touchdown run by Ahlers, and Nic Behrens' extra point made it 7-0 with eight minutes left in the quarter.
Mobridge-Pollock was forced to punt on the ensuing possession after just three plays. After getting the ball back Flandreau scored again, but in much quicker fashion. On second down from Mobridge-Pollock's 45-yard line, Parsley faked a handoff to Ahlers that sucked in the Tiger defense, kept the ball himself and took off down the sideline for a 45-yard touchdown to give Flandreau a 13-0 lead with 5:26 left in the quarter.
The lead increased to 15-0 thanks to a heads up play by Behrens, who picked up the ball after a botched snap on the extra point and flung the ball into the end zone to Ahlers for two points. Mobridge-Pollock scored quickly on its next possession, however, after a 65-yard gain by Tiger running back Jesse Dienert set up a 3-yard touchdown connection from Netterville to Friesz.
Flandreau took a 15-7 lead into the second quarter, but the Tigers would rally to take the lead into halftime.
After stuffing Flandreau on a fourth-and-goal midway through the second quarter, the Tigers hit paydirt again on a four-play, 81-yard drive that took just 1:07. Netterville hit Friesz for a 35-yard completion before eventually taking the ball in himself from 16 yards out. Netterville's touchdown and the ensuing extra point brought the Tigers to within one point at 15-14, and the Tigers would take the lead with just over two minutes left in the half after Friesz scored from 22 yards out on a direct snap. His touchdown was set up by a 61-yard completion from Netterville to Greg Fred.
The Tigers (10-2) took a 21-15 lead into the locker room largely because of the playmaking ability of Netterville and Friesz. "Their team speed - they took advantage of us like they have all year to a lot of people," Stadem said. "And they (Netterville and Friesz) are pretty special athletes and they have a nice line up there."
Flandreau caught a break early in the third quarter when Dienert fumbled on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, giving Flandreau the ball at the Tiger 29.
Flandreau scored five plays later on a 1-yard touchdown run by Ahlers, but Behrens missed the extra point and the score was tied at 21-21 with 9:36 left in the third quarter. Then Mobridge-Pollock took the lead in the fourth quarter to set up Parsley (via Patterson) and Gassman's late-game heroics.
"Great players make good plays," Stadem said. "And that's what Joe did on getting that first down and then Luke making that catch. You make plays. When an opportunity arises you gotta take advantage of it and those guys did in those situations."
Parsley finished the game with 15 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown, and was 3-of-9 through the air with 71 yards and a touchdown, while Flandreau’s Tim Jones was named South Dakota Coaches’ Association Outstanding Lineman of the game.
Ben Christensen led the Flier defense with nine tackles.