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Heartbreaker ends Blackhawks' championship chase

VERMILLION -- There was a powerful silence that fell upon the Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central sideline after Thursday's Class 9AA state championship.

Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central's Josh Feiner (1) is tackled by Wolsey-Wessington's Tanner Waters (5) after a catch during the class 9AA state championships at the DakotaDome on Thursday in Vermillion. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central's Josh Feiner (1) is tackled by Wolsey-Wessington's Tanner Waters (5) after a catch during the class 9AA state championships at the DakotaDome on Thursday in Vermillion. (Matt Gade/Republic)

VERMILLION - There was a powerful silence that fell upon the Woonsocket/Wessington Springs/Sanborn Central sideline after Thursday's Class 9AA state championship.

Reality was setting in. The Blackhawks' dream of being state champions was gone.

Instead of hoisting a championship trophy, W/WS/SC had to watch from the opposite sideline as its rivals achieved the very goal the Blackhawks had dreamed for themselves, as Wolsey-Wessington earned its first state championship with a 36-22 win at the DakotaDome.

This was the second time in a row the Blackhawks had a chance to capture a state championship. And it didn't hurt any less the second time around.

"I'm left with a lot of emotion right now," senior quarterback Tucker Kingsbury said. "We put a lot of work into this season, and we got ourselves here two years in a row. But we could just never finish it."

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If a few plays went differently, it might have been a much different outcome for the senior-heavy Blackhawks (11-1). Trailing 28-22 with just more than 6 minutes remaining, W/WS/SC was driving into enemy territory at the Warbirds' 25-yard line and faced fourth-and-2. Running an option play similar to last week's play that propelled the Blackhawks into the DakotaDome, Kingsbury rolled out to his right and was immediately swallowed up. Realizing his predicament, he quickly pitched the ball to running back Landon Ochsner just as he was thrown to the ground. Only this time, the option play didn't work, as Ochsner was also brought down the moment he got his hands on the football, losing three yards and the Blackhawks' chance to tie the game in the process.

"Obviously, in retrospect, I'd like to have that play back on fourth down," W/WS/SC head coach Jason Kolousek said.

The Blackhawks had a chance to stop the Warbirds and have a final chance to win the game on offense, as Wolsey-Wessington continued to shoot itself in the foot with penalties. But, the Warbirds (11-1) used standout running back Hunter Johnson (who set a nine-man all-classes championship game record for most rushing yards with 303 yards on 31 carries) to convert a third-and-10 and fourth-and-5 on the drive to seal the Blackhawks' fate. Johnson picked up both key conversions on read-option plays.

"I wanted the ball," said Johnson, who was the Joe Robbie Most Valuable Player of the Game. "I told coach, 'Just give me the ball, and I'll get the yards.' It's all I had to do."

Kolousek said the plays were incredibly frustrating to defend because he had a good idea what the Warbirds were going to run, but the defense couldn't get a stop when it needed one the most.

"We knew it was coming that way," Kolousek said. "It was kind of ironic because last year in the regular season, they had a fourth-and-5 and (former Warbirds standout) Lorenzo Williams ran the exact same play. Hunter is just a tough runner. Even when our guys were there, he was always getting two or three extra yards because his momentum carried him so much. Give him credit, he gave us trouble today."

On Oct. 16, the Blackhawks handed the Warbirds their lone loss of the season, 20-6, by containing Johnson and stalling Wolsey-Wessington drives in the red zone.

Warbirds head coach Gordon Hooks was determined to not let his team suffer from the same mistakes again. He added that the key to the game was to win the battle up front with his "dirty birds," or offensive and defensive linemen, which he thinks the Warbirds did.

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"We knew we could play with them," Hooks said. "We knew we didn't play our best game the first time. We knew they had big boys up front, and they were going to be aggressive. But we knew if our guys dug deep and we played our game, our line could block with them."

Offensively, Kingsbury led W/WS/SC with 137 passing yards, while completing 12-of-19 passes and throwing for two touchdowns."

Ochsner had 121 rushing yards and a touchdown while compiling a game-high 16 tackles, while John Witte and Jacob Fouberg had 13 tackles apiece.

While the Blackhawks are disappointed with the end result, Kolousek said it's hard to not feel a sense of pride considering W/WS/SC's seniors - there's 11 of them on this year's team - were 2-6 their freshman year.

"We talked about that a little bit," Kolousek said. "When these seniors were freshmen, they got thrown into it a little bit and they've worked hard to turn it around. I was extremely proud of their dedication and their focus. They set a goal to get here, and we did. Unfortunately, sometimes you set those goals and strive for them, but you come up a little bit short. I'm extremely proud of our kids."

NOTES: Johnson also won the award for most outstanding back, while Wolsey-Wessington's Dylan Hines won most outstanding lineman. ... Johnson's nine-man all-class championship game record was previously held by Jordan Conner, who had 295 yards for Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan in 2010. ... Both teams are members of the 281 Conference and qualified out of Region 3 in Class 9AA.

WOLSEY-WESSINGTON 36, WOONSOCKET/WESSINGTON SPRINGS/SANBORN CENTRAL 22

WW 6 8 14 8 - 36

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WWSSC 8 0 14 0 - 22

Scoring summary

First quarter

W/WS/SC: Dillon Moore 39 pass from Tucker Kingsbury (Landon Ochsner run good)

WW: Hunter Johnson 5 run (conversion failed)

Second quarter

WW: Darian Ogunjemilusi 25 pass from Jerret Weber (Carter Langbehn pass from Weber good)

Third quarter

WW: Ogunjemilusi 30 run (conversion failed)

W/WS/SC: John Witte 5 pass from Kingsbury (Logun Feistner pass from Kingsbury good

Fourth quarter

WW: Johnson 45 run (Brady Struck pass from Weber good)

WW WWSSC

First downs 19 13

Rushes-yards 53-404 36-141

Passing yards 78 137

Passing 4-9-1 12-19-0

Punts-yards 2-37 0-0

Penalties-yards 5-45 4-31

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: WW, Johnson 31-303, Ogunjemilusi 79, Weber 7-25, Hamilton 1-(minus1). WWSSC, Ochsner 23-121, Witte 7-17, Kingsbury 5-6, Moore 1-(minus 3).

PASSING: WW, Weber 4-7-1, 78 yards; Johnson 0-1-0, 0 yards; Kemnitz 0-1-0, 0 yards. WWSSC, Kingsbury 12-19-0, 137 yards.

RECEIVING: WW, Ogunjemilusi 2-48, Kemnitz 1-19, Hamilton 1-11. WWSSC, Feiner 5-46, Moore 3-40, Witte 2-37, Feistner 1-7, Ochsner 1-7.

Related Topics: WOONSOCKETFORESTBURG
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