The Bishop Ryan football team had state championship aspirations after winning the Class AA West Region title.
But those dreams were dashed Saturday in a 24-14 loss to Valley City in the first round of the Class AA playoffs at Herb Parker Stadium.
Several Ryan players were emotional following the loss to the East Region's No. 4 team, but no one was more crushed than junior defensive lineman Mason Kramer. Following a short team meeting after the game, Kramer walked to the far end of the end zone before taking a knee for several minutes, tears streaming down his face.
Bishop Ryan senior running back Chase Fugure carries the ball during Saturday’s Class AA playoff game at Herb Parker Stadium.
"This is definitely the toughest loss I've ever had," Kramer said. "We worked so hard this summer and all season to win the West Region. That meant everything but a state title. I really though us being No. 1 out of the west, it could really be our year."
Leading 16-14 with just over a minute to play, Valley City senior quarterback Austin Svenningsen connected with senior tight end Tayler Lentz for a 33-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 to end the Lions' season. Svenningsen had just two completions, both to Lentz.
"I'm real proud of my guys," Valley City coach Scott Roehrich said. "We're not very flashy. We have some kids that just want to work hard and get coached to be the best that they can and that's all we ask of them."
Four plays earlier, the Hi-Liners recovered a fumble by Ryan junior wide receiver Brody Bosch at midfield.
Valley City ran its offense to perfection and dominated time of possession. Valley City used 8 minutes, 44 seconds of the clock on its opening possession, driving 86 yards in 18 plays. Senior running back Shane Undem capped off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown. The Hi-Liners converted the ensuing two-point conversion to take an 8-0 lead.
"It's real tough," Ryan coach Brad Borkhuis said. "We had a lot of high expectations, we just couldn't make the play we needed when we needed it. That happens sometimes. With games like that you just hope they aren't in the playoffs and unfortunately this one was."
Valley City ran the ball on 64 of its 69 offensive plays, totaling 312 yards. Senior running back Anthony Olstad carried the ball 37 times for 134 yards and a touchdown that gave the Hi-Liners a 16-7 lead in the second quarter.
"You find a play that works and you keep running it," Roehrich said. "It's not rocket science. If they can't stop it, you just keep running it. It's that simple."
The return of senior running back Chase Fugere gave the Lions' running game a boost as he rushed for 117 yards on 19 carries. On his first carry since separating his shoulder in the first quarter against Rugby, Fugere broke a 25-yard run on Ryan's second play from scrimmage. Fugere wasn't much of a factor in the second half, rushing for 44 yards on nine carries.
After a tough outing against Bismarck St. Mary's last week in which he committed five tournovers, junior quarterback Austin Eggl did a better job of protecting the ball, but struggled with his consistency. Eggl finished 10-of-23 passing for 77 yards.
Eggl led the Lions down the field on their opening possession and scored on a 5-yard run after breaking a tackle by Valley City senior linebacker Caleb Peterson at the 4-yard line.
"The kids fought hard," Borkhuis said. "All credit to the kids. They played like champions."
Eggl found junior wide receiver Nick Berentson for a 16-yard touchdown with three seconds remaining in the first half to cut Valley City's lead to 16-14.
Valley City advances to play Grafton in the Class AA semifinals at 2 p.m. Saturday.
"It hurts," Ryan senior linebacker Isaac Tafelmeyer said. "After being here a heck of a long time, playing with all these guys, them being like your brothers, it sucks that it's the last time you get to step foot on this field. I bet it's killing everyone of these guys inside."