FARGO — Norman County East-Ulen Hitterdal was staring at the possibility of blowing a three-touchdown lead in the second half of Thursday's Minnesota Class 9-man, Section 6 football championship at the Fargodome.
Nothing was going right in the second half for the No. 8-ranked NCE-U-H, after rolling through the first half. The Titans had watched Win-E-Mac score 14 straight points to cut their lead to eight. They were eyeing a third-and-11 midway through the fourth with their best receiver out with a knee injury he suffered in the first half.
NCE-U-H quarterback Tate Maesse threw up a pass, as he was being dragged down to the ground. Steffen Sather jumped up, with two defenders all over him, and got it for a first down en route to the finishing touchdown and a 30-20 win. It was Sather's only catch of the game.
"He came down with a heck of a grab," NCE-U-H coach Dustin Flaten said. "We were gassed and we were one man down. Our guys were getting tired and you could tell the momentum turned. Those two guys hooking up on that play absolutely lifted us again."
Sather said he didn't realize how high he jumped until he came down.
"Before every play, I hope it goes to me obviously, and he got it to me," Sather said. "I think I got pushed up or something, or I got wings somehow."
Maesse was on the ground when he saw Sather's two white gloves above everyone else grabbing the ball.
"I threw it up there. He's got the best hands on the team, so I knew he'd get it somehow," Maesse said. "It was awesome. That was huge. We needed that first down."
Eight plays later, Maesse came up with another big pass, finding Tate Hoseth for a 3-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal to push the lead to 30-14 with 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining. Win-E-Mac scored a touchdown with less than a minute remaining, but couldn't convert the two-point attempt or get the onside kick.
"This is all we've worked for," Sather said. "We work so hard in practice every day."
NCE-U-H (10-0) went 60 yards in 5:11 on the opening drive, capping the 10-play march with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Maesse to Hunter Crompton on third-and-10. Maesse found Crompton again on the ensuing NCE-U-H drive for an 11-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 14-0.
The Titans delivered a big blow on its final drive of the first half. They went 90 yards on 13 plays, taking all but 22 seconds off the final 6:50 of the second quarter Noah Klemetson punched it in from 2 yards out and Maesse found Klemetson for the two-point conversion to give the Titans a 22-0 lead at halftime. The Titans did, however, lose Crompton on that final drive, as he came off the field, unable to put weight on his right leg. He did not return.
"That kind of made our heads go down a little bit, but we knew we had to get them back up and we did that," Maesse said.
Win-E-Mac (6-4) got on the board on the opening drive of the second half, as Nathan Fortmann capped a 17-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to cut the NCE-U-H lead to 22-6. Patriots made it a one-score game when Fortmann found the end zone from 4 yards out and Gavin Walker ran in the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 22-14 with 8:34 remaining.
Maesse found Sather and the Titans found their second section title since becoming a co-op in 2013.
"I'm proud of them, the way they battled, the way they gutted it out, the way they persevered all year long," Flaten said. "I couldn't be more proud of the guys than I am right now."