West Central Area-Ashby head football coach Nate Wood wanted to make sure every senior got to touch the ball on Friday night in the final game of the season. The Knights were able to put away Staples-Motley 48-27, and give every senior a moment to remember.

“Tonight was awesome,” Wood said. “We were so appreciative of the fact that we got to play tonight. Our practice on Tuesday had a pretty melancholy feel to it. We felt like we were done. To get that second wind and be able to get one more game felt great. To play as well as we did, have fun, play good football and play with nothing to lose was even better.”

The Knights (5-2) came into Friday’s match-up as the top seed in the Section 6-2A tournament. Staples-Motley (2-6), the fifth-seed, beat Wadena-Deer Creek (3-4) on Tuesday 20-0 to keep its season alive.

Tate Christenson looks for his teammates after catching a touchdown pass from Jaden Norby during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Tate Christenson looks for his teammates after catching a touchdown pass from Jaden Norby during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

WCA-Ashby senior Jordan Lohse broke off a 39-yard touchdown run three minutes into the game before Jaden Norby punched in a two-yard score. Evan Paulson hit Torin Olson on a 41-yard catch-and-run to take an 18-point lead early in the second quarter.

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Norby had himself an unforgettable second quarter. It started with a 13-yard touchdown run as a running back to put the Knights up 26-0 before he led the offense down the field as a quarterback. With a minute to go in the half, Norby found Tate Christenson wide open in the back of the end zone on a 15-yard connection. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Paulson hit Norby on a fade route in the corner of the end zone for the conversion.

“It was such an awesome game,” Norby said. “I felt like we got to do it all tonight. The only way you can end the season on a win is by winning the state championship. It almost felt like that tonight. The times and memories I’ve had with these guys, I’m never going to forget them. The bus rides and the times in the locker room – I’m going to miss it.”

Jaden Norby throws the ball to the end zone before the end of the first half during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Jaden Norby throws the ball to the end zone before the end of the first half during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

As WCA-A started to pull away, Wood made true on his promise. Anthony Sykora found the end zone on a two-yard scamper in the third quarter, which set up a two-point conversion opportunity for lineman Shane Wrolson. Wrolson pounded the ball up the middle before falling into the end zone. It was a moment of celebration for the Knights as the senior got his spotlight.

“Moments like that are unforgettable,” Wood said. “These seniors, and seniors around the state, didn’t get the season they were hoping for, but we wanted to make sure they had some unforgettable moments tonight. We came out here wanting to try new things and really open up the playbook. Everybody got involved, and it was an absolute blast out here tonight.”

Sykora had another standout year for the Knights out of the backfield as a sophomore. As WCA-A graduates a large senior class, Wood looks to him to be a leader for the next two years.

“He plays ahead of his age,” Wood said. “He’s tough, runs hard and has great vision. The biggest thing is he has a motor. He works hard and lifts hard, and if he keeps doing that he’s going to be a force in this game. If he can continue to get bigger and stronger I think he’ll see it pay off for him.”

Evan Paulson heaves a ball to the end zone on a two-point conversion during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Evan Paulson heaves a ball to the end zone on a two-point conversion during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

The Knights had the game in running time to start the fourth quarter, but three touchdowns by the Cardinals showed their ability to fight through the final whistle.

“They have very good line play,” Norby said. “They penetrated well on defense and had good blocking on offense. They pass well, too. They’re going to have a very good team in the coming years.”

Norby’s fall season had more ups and downs than he expected. When he initially thought there wasn’t going to be a football season he went out for cross country for the first time. At one point, he participated in both sports at the same time.

“At one moment you’re having fun running cross country thinking it's the only sport you can do,” Norby said. “Then you find out football is coming back and you get to play that too. There were some long nights. You’re out here doing both sports and have school on top of it. I was doing homework until 2 a.m. some nights trying to keep up. It was a lot, but they were unforgettable experiences.”

Despite not getting the chance to play Osakis for the section title, the Knights were thankful to spend 48 more minutes as a team under the Friday night lights on their home field.

Anthony Sykora runs for a first down during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Anthony Sykora runs for a first down during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

“I can’t tell you how happy I was when I found out we got one more game,” Norby said. “We wanted to come out here and show what we got in this team. We earned that top-seed. When we were freshmen we made it to the FargoDome, and us seniors really wanted to make it back and play for the Section title. Obviously that wasn’t possible this year, and it sucks. But to get this last night meant the world to us.”

WCA-A had high expectations coming into this year in large part due to a great senior class. Replacing the big-time playmakers poses a challenge for the Knights moving forward.

“It’s going to be really tough,” Wood said. “We talked about it as a coaching staff this year where we don’t need to do as much. They know what the warmup is and how to act on this team. They know how we get into practice every day. It’s a kudos to the seniors for buying in day in and day out. They’ve changed this program for the better.”

Anthony Sykora runs over a defender on his way to the end zone during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Anthony Sykora runs over a defender on his way to the end zone during West Central Area-Ashby's 48-27 win over Staples-Motley on Friday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

WEST CENTRAL AREA-ASHBY 48, STAPLES-MOTLEY 27

WCA-A SCORING- Jordan Lohse 39 yard-TD run (Evan Paulson two-point conversion pass no good); Anthony Sykora 2-yard TD run (Shane Wrolson two-point conversion run good); Connor Nadgwick (Nate Kisgen two-point conversion run no good); Lohse 15-yard TD run (Sam HeeterPAT kick good); Jaden Norby 2-yard TD run (Anthony Sykora two-point conversion run no good); Evan Paulson 41-yard TD pass to Torin Olson (Norby two-point conversion pass no good); Norby 13-yard TD run (Paulson two-point conversion pass to Lohse good); Norby 15-yard TD pass to Tate Christenson (Paulson two-point conversion pass to Norby good)