Winner reverses outcome on Seahawks, claims Class 11B title of its own
VERMILLION -- Winner was ready for the moment this year. And this time, the Warriors had the last defensive stand.
A rematch of the Class 11B foes lasted until the final seconds again, but Riley Orel dealt the final heroics at the DakotaDome on Friday. The Joe Robbie MVP Award winner broke up Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan’s last-second heave at the goal line, securing Winner’s first state title since 2016 in an 18-14 win.
“It’s a lot better to be on this side of the field than last year watching the other guys,” Winner quarterback Brady Fritz said after Winner’s fifth Class 11B state title since 2009.
“It’s kind of the flip of the script from last year,” Fritz later added. “We tried to go down (the field) last year and they tried to go down this year. It was great. It was a nail-biter until the last ball hit the turf.”
The Seahawks, who suffered their first loss since 2018’s Class 11B championship game, had to cover 90 yards in the final 2 minutes, 25 seconds.
A trio of Winner (11-0) penalties and Kaden Klumb completing passes downfield brought BEE to the opposing 24-yard line with 6 seconds remaining. He stepped up and delivered a pass to Koby Kayser, though Orel stepped in front to knock it away. As the pass hit the ground, the Warrior sideline stormed the field in front of a screaming crowd.
“To come back and beat them after they beat us like that, and to beat them pretty much the same way is great,” Orel said.
The final play was a microcosm of the stout defense Winner presented all game. BEE (11-1) broke off big runs on option plays and pitches after it shifted away from running straight at the tough Winner defensive line. It finished with 157 yards and 4-for-10 on third down.
The Warriors’ defense made plays right away, forcing a turnover on BEE’s first two possessions. They capitalized on the second takeaway with Preston Norrid’s 4-yard score.
“I think this year we definitely had the nerves calm down a little bit and fire on all cylinders,” Fritz said. “I felt like our defense played incredible.”
Klumb’s 1-yard touchdown run gave BEE a 7-6 lead in the second quarter, but behind an offensive line that created holes for the running backs all game, the Warriors took back control.
Coming out of halftime, Fritz’s 30-yard pass to Sam Kruger, who was named the game’s outstanding back, led to the quarterback sneaking it in for an 18-6 advantage. Without the Seahawks touching the ball, Winner took a two-score lead.
“It was a big swing,” BEE coach Jeff VanLeur said. “We lost momentum, and we needed to keep that momentum on our side. We fought back and got back to the momentum, just couldn’t come away with (the win).”
Bodie Burnham tried his best to spark BEE. He returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards, and a couple of plays later rushed for a 1-yard touchdown.
“I knew we needed some momentum after they scored on us right after halftime,” said Burnham, who finished with 61 yards on 14 carries. “I did what I could.”
BEE had chances to take the lead, but couldn’t find the final momentum-shifting play like last year. It stuffed Winner in the red zone and saw two potential game-winning drives fall short.
“You’re happy for the kids No. 1, but the community No. 2,” Winner coach Trent Olson said. “How much they love football. How much they support football. It feels really good helping to bring a little happiness to them.”