West Central Area-Ashby defensive back Jordan Lohse had a quiet night until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. That was until he made the most critical play of the game.
With the Pillager Huskies driving down the field trailing by six, Lohse intercepted the Erik Peterson pass on his own 21-yard line.
"Everyone had their part tonight," quarterback Jaden Norby said. "He might not have had that many tackles or had that many runs, but that play he made was the play of the night. Hands down."
The Knights remain undefeated after holding on to beat the Huskies (2-2). The 28-22 win puts WCA-A at the top of Section 6AA.
"I'm kind of overwhelmed right now," head coach Nate Wood said. "It was a heck of a game with a lot of heart shown by both teams. It was just a darn good football game that came down to the wire."
If football games lasted 12 minutes, the Knights would've won without a sweat. Norby started the scoring with a one-yard touchdown run. The play was set up by a 32-yard catch on 4th-and-nine by Gage Staples. After the two-point conversion, WCA-A led 8-0.
The Knights got the ball back and drove down the field to the red zone. On first-and-goal, Norby took the ball and ran around the right side of his line until defenders met him at the five-yard line. Dragging several Huskies behind him, Norby crossed the goal line for his second score of the night.
"I try to keep my legs moving and keep my knees up," Norby said. "It also helps that I have my linemen behind me pushing the pile."
Not only was the touchdown run an impressive showcase of strength, but the two-point conversion was practically unfair to a defender.
Norby rolled out to his left and saw Staples cutting to the side of the end zone. An errant throw was snagged with one hand by Staples as he sprawled out. Staples said the catch made him feel like Cleveland Browns star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
“It felt good to get the ball thrown at me, besides the double-team,” Staples said. “When Jaden gets the ball in his hands, you know something good is going to happen. He’s just a force to be reckoned with.”
Pillager got on the board when Peterson found the end zone with a three-yard touchdown rush. On the Knight's next possession, a tipped pass was intercepted by Tucker Peterson and returned 70 yards for a touchdown, only to be brought back by a blocking penalty.
The waved touchdown would not deter the Huskies as they drove the field in under two minutes to cut the Knights lead to two.
The Knights offense was powered by the passing game in the first half. With Pillager not allowing many yards on the ground, Wood decided to let his guys air the ball out.
"We took what the defense was going to give us," Wood said. "We know Pillager was going to watch the film and they knew we liked to pound the ball. For them, it's about picking your poison. We can beat teams in both ways. I love to throw the ball. I'll throw the ball all night."
With the help of his receivers, Norby is starting to feel more comfortable in the pocket.
"It took a while, but I'm getting there," Norby said. "I'm not where I want to be yet, but I'll get there. The receivers ran their routes crisp, and they did an excellent job. I trust them. I've played with those guys since we combined in junior high. I trust them with every throw I put up there."
With five minutes left in the third quarter, Norby ran for his third touchdown of the game to put the Knights up 22-14.
"He's just one of those special kids across the board," Wood said. "How he handles himself with school and how he interacts with people is impressive. On top of that, he's blessed with this incredible athletic talent. He's really special."
WCA-A found themselves in the red zone again after Christenson caught a 25-yard pass at the end of the third quarter. However, Pillager got the stop it needed to get the ball back.
Three plays later, Mattson Hoff recovered a fumble that led to a five-yard touchdown run from Anthony Sykora.
"That fumble was the turning point in the game," Wood said. "They had just stopped us a few plays before, and momentum was swinging their way. Momentum is a crazy thing in football. To then be able to capitalize off that turnover was huge for us."
Pillager was able to score a quick touchdown to cut WCA-A's lead to 28-22. The Knights got the ball back with over six minutes left in the game but turned the ball over on downs with 1:41 left on their own 48-yard line.
On 2nd-and-seven, senior lineman JJ Sabolik dropped Erik Peterson in the backfield for an eight-yard sack.
"It was a big game, and I made a big play," Sabolik said. "The opportunity came for me to make a play, and I had to do it."
On the next play, Lohse clinched the win with his interception.
"This means a lot to us," Norby said. "Pillager is a very good football team, and it took a lot of work to beat them and prepare for this game."
WCA-A is tied with Staples-Motley for first place in Section 6AA. However, they aren't looking forward to its next marquee matchup against Barnsville in two weeks just yet.
"We look at this like it's business as usual," Sabolik said. "We take things week-to-week. Next week, we have Otter Tail Central (1-3). We have to do our job and hopefully end up with a win.”