VALLEY CITY (NewsDakota.com)–This one hurts.
Mistakes and bad breaks, including a 61-yard fumble return for touchdown by Wahpeton’s Tyler Grippentrog hurt the Hi-Liner football team Friday night, as they suffered a 22-16 loss at Hanna Field in the Region I opener.
After dominating the first half with a 16-0 start, Valley City struggled offensively, recording only two first downs in the second half, then watched as the Huskies capitalized on momentum-turning breaks from the end of the half through the end of the game.
Wahpeton scored on an untimed down on a controversial touchdown call at the end of the half, and the scoop-and-score fumble recovery came on a ball that could have either been ruled caught or dropped.
Valley City hurt themselves also, committing two three turnovers in the second half, including the Grippentrog return and an interception by Cole Gilles that shut down the Hi-Liners’ final drive of the night. Head coach Scott Roehrich saw the Wahpeton defense make key adjustments in the second half and knew the game got away from his team.
The Hi-Liner defense was active early. Wahpeton threatened in the opening quarter, but lineman Spencer Meyer started a trend of pressuring the passer that continued all evening long, stopping the threat.
On the ensuing drive, Hi-Liner runner Brandon Breckheimer broke a big run for the first points of the game near the end of the first quarter.
The Hi-Liners’ next possession approached perfection, covering 17 plays and 81 yards, all on the ground, with all but seven yards on the ground, and quarterback Austin Svenningson got in the house for a two-score, 16-0 lead with just 1:52 left of the half.
Then, the game took a solid turn toward Wahpeton. They would run the kickoff back to the Hi-Liner 41, then connect on a fourth-and-long to the Hi-Liner eight. That play would be added to by one of an abnormally-high amount of unsportsmanlike penalties against Valley City, pushing the ball to the four with no time left on the clock.
The half cannot end on a defensive foul, so Wahpeton received an untimed down, and Brock Lingen looked to turn the right corner for a score. He appeared to be stopped short of the goal line, but was credited with a score, cutting the Hi-Liner lead in half.
Roehrich, when asked after the game about the call, said simply, “I thought he was short too.”
Wahpeton changed quarterbacks in the second half, but their defense was the tone-setter. Roehrich said he saw the Huskies change their defensive front to a six-man front, and the Hi-Liners could find no holes against the adjustment.
Roehrich went on to say the Hi-Liners would have to find way to execute their patented running game even against the stacked boxes that are sure to continue this season.
The Huskies again threatened on their third possession of the half, but another big quarterback sack turned them away inside Hi-Liner territory.
A key sequence took place on the next Hi-Liner possession. The Hi-Liners faced fourth-and-inches from their own 25, and Roehrich opted to play for the first down with a Svenningson sneak. Wahpeton’s defense was ready, and Valley City was stopped short.
Roehrich said his decision was based on the need for momentum.
Wahpeton was quick to capitalize, and Lunneberg would hit Cole Gilles over the middle from 16 yards for the score, tying the game with 6:17 to play.
The next Hi-Liner touch put the Huskies on top to stay. Svenningson hit Breckheimer for a short pass, but as he was turning and beginning to control the ball, a hit jarred it loose. The loose ball was scooped by Grippentrog, and his dash was the eventual gamewinner.
Gilles then sealed the win for Wahpeton with an interception of a Svenningson pass, allowing the Huskies to run out the clock for the win.
Valley City is now 1-1 overall, 0-1 in Region I play. They travel to Wimbledon to face Griggs-Barnes County Friday night.
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