MINNEAPOLIS — No one will ever know if Mahnomen-Waubun senior linebacker Jayden Heisler was supposed to blitz on BOLD's final drive of the Minnesota Class 1A state championship Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Heisler had a devious grin when he said that he blitzed after the game. He often blitzes on his own. M-W coach John Clark laughed when he said it was good coaching and Heisler was supposed to blitz.
BOLD was inside the M-W 10-yard line with less than two minutes remaining and the Thunderbirds grasping to a one-point lead. The Warriors had just converted a backbreaking fourth-and-7. They had broken the backs and were now trying to break the hearts of the Thunderbirds by draining the clock and scoring a last-second touchdown or field goal.
Heisler blitzed, ripped the ball away from BOLD running back Dawson Vosika at the M-W 9 and pounced on it with 1 minute, 36 seconds remaining.
"Just the formation, I kind of read it, they'd been running veer out of it, and kind of blitzed," Heisler said with a smile.
The Thunderbirds ran out the clock and, in their first year as a co-op, capped an undefeated season with a 22-21 win and a state title.
"He blitzes a lot on his own, but he's going to make plays," Clark said. "If you watch him on defense, he's usually in the middle of the pile somewhere. I don't know if he's credited with a lot of tackles, but he weighs 150 pounds and he takes on big kids head on and does a great job."
M-W (13-0) trailed 21-14 in the fourth quarter. With 11 minutes, 16 seconds remaining, the Thunderbirds would use a 13-play, 72-yard drive, which took more than six minutes off the clock, to get within one.
Along the way, quarterback Jon Starkey converted a fourth-and-1 and running back Parker Syverson converted a third-and-8 and third-and-3 with runs. Starkey would come up with the biggest conversion on third-and-2, rumbling for a 10-yard touchdown run to cut the BOLD lead to 21-20 with 5:12 remaining.
"I was ready to go, ready to score, ready to take home a state championship," Starkey said.
Clark called a timeout after the touchdown. He looked in the eyes of his players and said he saw something he'll never forget.
"As a football coach, you know," Clark said. "They were chomping at the bit. They wanted to run blast right and they wanted to mow them over and get it in. There was never a doubt."
Clark called a formation the team had just implemented at practice the previous night. Syverson ran in untouched, screaming as he entered the end zone, and M-W had a 22-21 lead.
"I don't think there was ever a thought of even kicking it once we scored a touchdown," said Syverson, who rushed for 190 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. "I think we all just expected to go for two. We all wanted to go for the win."
M-W fumbled on its opening drive and BOLD made the Thunderbirds pay. Jordan Sagedahl found Vosika for a 43-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing drive. Jeffrey Cukla blocked the extra point to keep the BOLD lead at 6-0.
The Thunderbirds answered with an eight-play, 60-yard drive to tie the game. Starkey capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown.
"I thought our line was tremendous all night, especially the first half," Clark said. "Our linemen are gutty kids. They're not going to overwhelm you with power or size, but they sure get off the ball."
Sagedahl found Vosika again for a 50-yard touchdown to answer. The two hooked up for the two-point conversion to give BOLD a 14-6 lead in the closing seconds of the first quarter. BOLD lost their best lineman on both sides of the ball in 300-pound Riley Weis on the drive, as he left with an apparent shoulder injury for the remainder of the game.
M-W used 11 plays and 4:38 to march 63 yards, as Syverson used a 2-yard touchdown run and a run on the two-point conversion to tie the game.
"It was fun to see (Mahnomen and Waubun football players) come together," Clark said. "We obviously knew we had talent. Our question mark, to be honest with you, was our offensive line and boy did they gel together. They put on a show today I thought."
BOLD grabbed back the lead on a 3-yard touchdown from Sagedahl with 5:04 remaining in the first half. M-W looked to have an answer behind Syverson. He reached 100 yards for the game on his 15th carry, which put him at 109. His 16th carry picked up 13 yards, but Lucas Ryan punched the ball out of his hands and Sagedahl jumped on it at the BOLD 11 to keep the Thunderbirds out of the end zone.
"My teammates did a good job of picking me up," Syverson said. "I was kind of hanging my head. I think we were focusing on the next play and that's been our motto all year, focus on the next play. I think that's what we all did and we came out with the win."
BOLD - which stands for Bird Island, Olivia, Lake Lillian District - averaged 47.7 points a game in 13 games, all wins, heading into the game against M-W. The Warriors were shut out in the second half to give the M-W co-op it's first state title.
"Most physical game I ever played," Ryan said.
Mahnomen last won a state football title in 2013 and Waubun had never won a state title. That history is no more.
"We're the Thundebirds now and that's behind us," Syverson said. "We just wanted to start the tradition off right."