NEW ROCKFORD - Even with his team up by two touchdowns in the third quarter, Chance LaBrie got an uneasy feeling.
The New Rockford-Sheyenne senior admitted to tightening up after Cavalier finally put points on the board in the third quarter.
"I'm not supposed to say this, but when they scored that touchdown, I was starting to stiffen up," LaBrie said. "Our defensive philosophy is to bend, don't break. We broke on that series."
New Rockford-Sheyenne junior quarterback Ethan Haley gets tackled by a pair of Cavalier defenders during the Rockets’ 9-man semifinal win Saturday in New Rockford. Photo courtesy of John Steiner/Jamestown Sun.
Standout quarterback Ethan Haley put his mind at ease.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior fired a 68-yard touchdown pass to Seth Gilliss on the next possession that helped clinch a 32-8 win Saturday in 9-man state semifinal action.
"Ethan really threw a nice ball to Gilliss," LaBrie said. "He made a heck of a play on it. The momentum seemed to shift in our favor."
The win sends the No. 2-ranked Rockets to the Dakota Bowl, where they'll face Region 4 champion and top-ranked Divide County in the state championship game at noon Friday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
"I don't think anyone in the state thought we could do this," LaBrie said. "It just feels awesome."
The trip will be the first for NR-S since it fell in back-to-back championship games in 2003 and 2004. The Rockets have never won a title.
"It's a dream come true," said senior Josh Edmonson, who had 45 yards rushing and 73 yards receiving.
Haley had a busy day, rushing 23 times for a 108 yards and completing 4-of-5 passes for 141 yards. He had TD runs of 7 and 6 yards. The Rockets finished with 368 yards of total offense, including 227 on the ground.
Still, the biggest play came through the air.
Cavalier, trailing 20-0 at halftime, put together a 5-play, 79-yard drive that was highlighted by a 49-yard run from standout quarterback Ryan Chrest and punctuated by a 3-yard touchdown run from sophomore Brock Robbins.
To add to that, Cavalier forced the Rockets into a third-and-16 on the ensuing possession.
However, Haley hit an open Gilliss on a post pattern to put NR-S up 26-8 with 2 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The big play seemed to take the wind out of Cavalier's sails, putting a halt to any momentum the Tornadoes had gained.
"That's the mark of a good team, though," Cavalier coach Sandy Laxdal said. "They create big plays like that. They're solid in all facets. They made a play when they had to. That was the difference."
Though he didn't play a big part in the offense in the second half, senior Alex Perleberg was an unsung hero in the second quarter. He had TD runs of 47 and 11 yards and ended with 74 yards on 13 carries.
The offense was steady, but the defense was dominant for the Rockets, who improved to 11-0. They allowed 223 yards of total offense, 98 of which came on 18 carries from Chrest.
Cavalier's high-powered offense, which came in averaging 51 points per game, was held to a single touchdown, though part of that could be due to the absence of the Tornadoes starting running back. Senior Brayden Cleem suffered a torn meniscus two weeks ago against South Border.
Haley said tackling was the difference.
"We wrapped up a lot better," Haley said. "Our defense came to play. We spent a ton of hours studying (film)."
Even the mild-mannered Gilliss was partly in shock.
"It kind of surprises me how low we kept their score," he said. "They're a big-scoring team. We had a really good game plan.
"This feels great. Hopefully, we'll be the first team from NR-S to win state."