The Dell Rapids St Mary Cardinals won their first ever state football championship in dramatic fashion on Thursday, November 11th. CJ Smith threw a two-point conversion pass to Gabe Lindeman for the game-winning conversion to beat the Potter County Battlers 44-42 in the 9B Championship game at the Dakota Dome in Vermillion.
The game couldn’t have been more back-and-forth than it was for the entire duration. The Cardinals struck first after a 32-yard interception return by John Pica for a touchdown with 10:33 to play in the second quarter. Ty Brown got the two-point conversion to put St Mary ahead 8-0. The Battlers tied the game just :46 later. Grant Luikens threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Drake Bassett and the two-point conversion was good to tie the game 8-8 with 9:47 in the half. Potter County had the advantage at halftime after Luikens ran a three-yard touchdown run into the end zone with 2:28 to play. The Battlers led 14-8 at halftime.
St Mary did all of the scoring in the third quarter. The Cardinals tied the game with 7:08 in the quarter after a one-yard touchdown run by Brown. St Mary then took the lead with 2:33 in the quarter after a 27-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Tate Bunkers. The two-point conversion was no good, and the Cardinals led 20-14 heading into the final quarter.
The Battlers put the pressure on the Cardinals in the fourth quarter. Luikens had a 30-yard touchdown pass to Rider Falkenhagen with 11:53 to play in the game. The two-point conversion was no good, and the game was tied 20-20. After a fumble recovery by Potter County, Luikens scored on an eight-yard run with 7:08 to go. The two-point conversion was good, and the Battlers led 28-20.
St Mary had one more scoring drive in them before the end of regulation. Smith threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Nic Gaspar with 1:06 left in the game to finish a 10-play, 67-yard drive. Smith connected with Gabe Lindeman for the two-point conversion to tie the game 28-28. Potter County nearly won the game in regulation as they drove the ball deep into Cardinal territory. The final play of regulation ended at the St Mary two-yard line as time expired.
The Cardinals went on offense first in the first overtime. Gaspar had an eight-yard touchdown run, and then Smith threw a two-point conversion pass to Gaspar for a 36-28 lead. The Battlers responded on their first offensive play of overtime when Luikens threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Drake Basset. Luikens ran the two-point conversion into the end zone to tie the game 36-36.
Potter County got the ball first in the second overtime. Again Luikens had a 10-yard touchdown pass, this time to Falkenhagen. Luikens, though, was stopped short of the goal line on the two-point conversion attempt. The Battlers led 42-36. The Cardinals needed three plays, but Gaspar put the ball into the end zone on a two-yard run to tie the game 42-42. On the two-point conversion, Smith threw a pass to Lindeman who caught it just beyond the goal line for the game-winning score.
The Cardinals finished with 345 yards of total offense, 247 rushing yards and 98 passing yards. Potter County had 319 total yards, 297 passing yards and 22 passing yards. St Mary held the ball on offense for 31:33 of the 48:00 minutes in the game.
Gaspar, who was named a South Dakota High School Football Coaches Association Outstanding Back in the game, had 21 carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns. Brown finished with 19 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown. Noah Olund had 13 carries for 58 yards. Smith was 5-12 passing for 98 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. Gaspar had three catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Bunkers had a catch for 27 yards and a touchdown. Lindeman also had a catch for six yards.
Pica led the team with 11 tackles in the game, one for a loss, and an interception returned for a touchdown. Olund had seven tackles. Ty Brown had six. Lucas Flemmer, Lindeman, Gaspar, and Smith all had three tackles each. Gaspar also had a fumble recovery and an interception. Pica was named the South Dakota High School Football Coaches Association Outstanding Lineman for the game.
St Mary’s championship season ends with an 8-3 overall record.