'Special experience': Hawkins shines on state’s brightest stage
BROOKINGS -- The last two Class 11B state championship games were ones to forget for Brady Hawkins, but he flipped the script on Friday.
The Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan quarterback guided the Seahawks to their first Class 11B state football championship at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. It was a reverse of fortunes for Hawkins and BEE, which fell to Sioux Falls Christian in the same game the past two seasons.
“It feels amazing,” Hawkins said. “Everybody came to play. We all played great. I am so proud of my teammates. I am proud of the coaches. Everybody did awesome and this is a special experience.”
Hawkins was special in this one. After managing just 41 passing yards and one interception against Sioux Falls Christian last season, he finished with 152 passing yards and three touchdowns as BEE edged Winner 21-14 in a thriller. A future South Dakota State University pitcher, Hawkins was near perfect as he finished 10 of 15 and also rushed for 77 yards on 15 carries.
“We stopped the running game, which we thought was No. 1 key,” Winner coach Dan Aaker said. “But the scary part is when you do that you really getting the ball in Hawkins hand, who can run and throw.”
Hawkins connected with Jonah Hofer, Chase Arend and Eric Gustafson for touchdown strikes. Hofer’s touchdown reception in the fourth quarter put BEE ahead 21-14 as Hawkins threw it perfectly over Winner’s Brady Fritz for the score.
Fritz gave his praise to his quarterback counterpart after the game.
“He’s a great player,” Fritz said. “He’s probably one of the best players I have ever played. It’s safe to say it’s going to be a load off the shoulder he’s not coming back next year.”
BEE’s defense continues to shine
Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan’s defense has carried it during the playoffs, posting three shutouts heading into Friday’s contest. Winner’s opening touchdown of the game was BEE’s first score given up in 14 quarters.
“We just had to get in the moment and know that we are actually here,” BEE linebacker Rylee Schultz said. “It was our time to play and we sure did.”
The opening drive lasted 6 minutes, 25 seconds as Winner went with all running plays.
“We pretty much had positive drives,” Aaker said. “We sustained them, but we didn’t finish them all and against teams like this, you just need to finish them and it didn’t happen.”
BEE’s defense stepped up in the fourth quarter, finishing with a goal line stand and Chase Arend’s game-clinching interception.
“We have had great defense all year long and to win a game with our defense, I think that’s just special,” BEE coach Jeff Van Leur said. “It tops it all off.”
Van Leur receives 40-year coaching honor
Van Leur had a night to remember. He not only led BEE to another state title, he was honored at halftime of Friday’s Class 11AAA contest for 40-years of coaching in South Dakota.
But as is the norm, he deflected any attention to those around him for any individual accolades.
“It’s all about these kids,” Van Leur said. “I can’t say enough about them. I love them to death and they did a great job for us all season long.”
Hawkins flashed a smile when talking about his coach receiving the award.
“It’s special because all those kids that are out there -- these seniors -- we have been playing on the football field at halftime since we were little managers,” Hawkins said. “We learned from him since we were young and he’s a special guy. He taught us everything we know.”
Van Leur’s coaching counterpart, Aaker, also gave the long-time coach and his program praise.
“I have the utmost respect for their coaching staff,” Aaker said. “Year in and year out, they are contenders and they are a true program. We kind of feel that’s the way we want to be, too, is a true program that’s in contention every year.”