West Central Area-Ashby sneaks past Osakis for 6AA championship
Evan Paulson's quarterback sneak touchdown with less than a minute to play produced with winning points in a 19-14 win in the Section 6AA title game on Friday.
FARGO — Before the biggest snap of his life, West Central Area-Ashby quarterback Evan Paulson may have felt figuratively that he had the weight of the Knights' communities on his back. Seconds later, Paulson may have felt that literally.
The stout Paulson took the snap, lowered his head and, with the help of about 1,000 pounds of offensive linemen, road-gradered the pile of bodies over the goal line for the winning points in the Knights' 19-14 win over Osakis in the Section 6AA championship game Friday in the Fargodome.
"I just kept moving," Paulson said, "and our linemen had a great push in there. Just pushed my way in."
The 9-1 Knights play the Class AA quarterfinals against Section 7AA champion Moose Lake/Willow River (8-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, in Brainerd, Minn. MLWR has five shutouts and have outscored their opponents by an average of 50-7.
The Knights' game against Osakis (8-2) wasn't going to look anything like that. Osakis put the lone blemish on West Central's record with a tough 22-20 win at Osakis on Oct. 15.
West Central led 7-6 at the half. Osakis quarterback Kyle Mages hit Carter Watnaas for a 29-yard touchdown and the Knights answered with Paulson's 69-yard scoring strike to Torin Olson.
The Knights' Anthony Sykora scored on a five yard run to make it 13-6, but Mages drove the Silverstreaks to the go-ahead score, calling his own number from 14 yards out. Tyson Hagedon worked his way across the goal line for the 2-point conversion that gave Osakis the lead at 14-13.
West Central Area-Ashby wasted little time trying to get the lead back. Paulson hit Cole Anderson for a 38-yard gain that put the Knights on the Osakis 15 with 5:13 to play. But one play later, Paulson's throw into the end zone was intercepted for a touchback.
"We knew we still had to keep making plays," Paulson said. "We never quit the whole game, even after we hit some tough spots. That interception was tough. So we had to go do it again. But we never gave up, we kept working."
Osakis wanted to gain yards and burn clock, but those plans were thrown off by a holding call on first down.
"It made it 1st-and-20 instead of 1st-and-10 when we're trying to run clock," said Osakis head coach Bill Infanger. "We wanted to pound it in there and eat up those four minutes. (The penalty) put us in a tough spot."
With Osakis forced to punt with 2:49 to play, the Knights' Olson fielded it at about midfield and returned it to the Silverstreaks' 32. They moved to the 15 but faced a 3rd-and-10. A shifty run by Sykora netted nine and, on maybe an even more important QB sneak, on fourth down, Paulson drove ahead for the first down.
With 54 seconds left, Paulson scored the go-ahead TD a play later and linebacker Mattson Hoff intercepted Mages at midfield and returned it 14 yards before sliding to the turf with 47 seconds left.
"As far as two-minute drills, that's about the best set up as you can be," said West Central head coach Nate Wood. "With plenty of time, we could run whatever we wanted and know we'd still be able to get another play in."
Despite the tense moments and pressure situations, the Knights thrive, Sykora said.
"It really came down to the wire in the fourth quarter but we kept working," Sykora said. "It's a team effort and we worked hard. That's all we do, get the tough wins."
0sakis 0 6 0 8 — 14
WCA 0 7 6 6 — 19
O: Carter Watnaas 29 pass from Kyle Mages (conv. failed)
W: Torin Olson 69 pass from Evan Paulson (Paulson kick)
W: Anthony Sykora 5 run (conv. failed)
O: Mages 14 run (Tyson Hagedon run)
W: Paulson 3 run (conv. failed)