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McCUTCHEON: Connor gets opportunity to leave his mark

Senior year is when it all comes together for any high school athlete, as years of hard work pay off in a chance to leave a mark that will last.

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Jace Connor’s senior season ended with a state championship, but the road getting there was not what he envisioned.

Connor was Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan’s starting quarterback as a sophomore and junior, but had to stand on the sidelines as a senior while the Seahawks marched to their third Class 9AA state title in four years.

In July, Connor was working at Ethan Co-op Lumber when a 1,000-pound cement block fell from the top of a stack he was working on and landed on his back.

The accident left Connor with a fractured spine, and when he woke up from a 2 1/2-hour surgery, he found out he would not play football again for BEE.

After not suiting up all season, Connor was in pads for his team’s 36-6 win over Arlington Thursday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

Connor took the field prior to the game for the coin toss as one of BEE’s captains, but it looked to just be that.

He had been there all year. He didn’t miss a single practice and was ever present at all Seahawk games, but getting between the lines was never an option due to the severity of the injury.

Whenever Connor’s name is brought up to BEE coach Jeff VanLeur, the 34-year coach has a hard time putting into words what his injured captain has meant to his team this year, despite never taking a snap.

“He’s there,” VanLeur said Thursday. “He’s always there. He works with the seniors and he works with the younger kids. I can’t say enough about what he has meant.”

With the Seahawks up 30-6 late in the title game Thursday, the outcome was sealed and BEE fans were preparing to make their way to the field for a familiar celebration.

Suddenly a cheer cascaded from the crowd as family and friends of the BEE program watched VanLeur turn to Connor and send him out onto the field for one last snap as the quarterback for the Seahawks.

Connor took the snap, handed the ball off to his running back and exited the field to heartfelt applause. Connor came back out and lined up at wide receiver for one more play on a late Seahawk two-point conversion try.

“There was never any doubt that we were going to put him in there,” VanLeur said. “It wouldn’t have mattered if we were winning, losing or tied.”

While VanLeur was sure he would get his senior leader in one last time, Connor had no clue.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Connor said after the title game. “I just started crying because I didn’t think I was going to get that opportunity.”

There was no risk to Connor’s injury, as he was untouched in his limited time on the field. And while his name will not be on the stat sheet, Connor got to leave his mark on the Seahawk football team one last time.