With its season on the line, the Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn football team needed a spark.
The Sioux, after fighting the week before just to get Region 2's No. 3 seed, trailed Linton-HMB by two touchdowns late in the first half of their Oct. 20 first-round Class A playoff game. With the Lions driving toward the end zone near the end of the first half, senior linebacker Kodie Hancock stepped in front of a screen pass and changed his team's fortunes.
Hancock picked off L-HMB quarterback Brooks Flyberg's throw and took it 50 yards for a touchdown as the first-half clock expired.
MDN File Photo
Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn quarterback Hunter Braaten scrambles during the Sioux’s win against Milnor-North Sargent in the second round of the Class A state playoffs on Oct. 27.
"That was big," Hancock said. "That changed the whole game right there. That gave us all the momentum in the world."
The Sioux finished that comeback. Then they rallied from two more second-half deficits to earn a trip to the Dakota Bowl.
Suddenly, a team with four losses in the regular season is one victory away from claiming the school's first state championship. W-N-G (8-4) plays 9-2 Hazen at 9 a.m. in Grand Forks' Alerus Center on Friday.
In the playoffs, the Sioux have relied on playmaking from junior quarterback Hunter Braaten - six rushing touchdowns, nine pass TDs - and opportunistic defensive and special teams units that have scored four times.
And, of course, coming back.
"I think we're playing a team that thinks no matter what goes on on the field, they believe they can win," Hazen coach Rick Philion said. "And they've proven that they can. ... If we get lucky enough to get a lead on these guys, (we) better keep playing hard."
Hazen has won consistently all season. Region 4's No. 1 seed has lost just one game against Class A teams and has outscored opponents 294-65 during its current seven-game win streak.
The Bison snapped defending state champion Stanley-Powers Lake's 22-game win streak Saturday behind 201 rushing yards and a touchdown from junior tailback Briar Bornemann.
"We played a hell of a team Saturday in Stanley," Philion said. "No matter how hard we played, it doesn't matter unless we finish this out. That's how we need to approach it."
Bornemann has seven postseason rushing TDs and returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score. Quarterback Stetson Carr rushed for 242 yards and a touchdown in Hazen's second-round win against Heart River.
"We haven't experienced them yet," W-N-G coach Tom Nesvold said. "It doesn't seem like on tape too many people have much success. You're not going to stop the good players. You just hope you can slow them down."
Kickoff is set for 9 a.m. Friday.