FARGO, N.D. -- The Pillager football team proved Friday that a Husky's will is greater than a Bear's bite.
Top-seeded Pillager pulled off a miraculous 24-21 come-from-behind win over the second-seeded Bertha-Hewitt Bears in the Section 6, Class 1A finals at the Fargodome. The win gives Pillager its second straight trip to the state tournament. Pillager will play Cook County in Grand Marais Friday.
By all accounts, the Huskies did everything imaginable to lose the game. They coughed up two fumbles, had a punt blocked near their end zone and committed seven penalties.
"I pulled the kids aside and told them, 'Hey you're not done.' I said, 'There's still time left and we're in good shape.'" -- Pete Bothun, Pillager coach
"We made more mistakes then we've made in the last three years that I've been here," said Pillager coach Pete Bothun. "But doggone-it, these kids, they sucked it up and proved that they're champions."
The fact that B-H had a 21-8 lead with 2 1/2 minutes already ticked off the fourth-quarter clock would have been enough to knock a lesser team out of the playoffs.
Pillager Huskies senior running back Steve Bethel (32) rushed up and nearly over a Bertha-Hewitt player in the Section 6, Class 1A championship game at the Fargodome Friday. Bethel, despite a deep thigh bruise and strep throat, rushed 27 times for 127 yards and a touchdown.
"I pulled the kids aside and told them, 'Hey you're not done,'" said Bothun. "I said, 'There's still time left and we're in good shape.'"
Pillager started its first possession of the fourth quarter at its 32. Fifteen plays later, senior fullback Steve Bethel powered his way into the end zone from four yards out for a 21-14 score. Tony Mason punched in the two-point conversion to bring the Huskies within five.
After an unsuccessful onside kick, the Huskies managed to stop the Bears' offense in three plays, forcing a punt.
This time, starting at their 33 with 3:23 remaining, the Huskies went on the prowl.
Despite being down and the lack of time, Bothun made, what may turn out to be, one of the best coaching decisions he'll ever make. Instead of passing the ball and panicking, he called for a run.
"We weren't getting any protection and that was part of it," Bothun said of his decision to stick with the run. "They were coming hard with the blitz and I made a decision. I talked to Lee and the guys up in the booth and we all agreed that if we're going to lose, we're going to lose with what we do best."
Sticking with its base offense, Pillager ran the length of the field in 10 plays before Robert Bethel sped 24 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
"We've been working on running and running and running all week," said Steve Bethel, who was hampered by a deep thigh bruise and strep throat. "That's where our confidence is. It's in our running game. Our passing, we just didn't have enough guys to stop their defensive front. So when we heard we were running it, it was like, 'Yes, we're going to get in.'"
Robert Bethel's touchdown came on third-and-nine. Bothun called the option. Quarterback Lee Roberts faked the ball to Steve Bethel, ran down the line, and right before he was about to get tackled, pitched it to Robert Bethel.
"I was just thinking we had to win," said Robert Bethel. "When I got the ball I was just thinking I had to get there. I had to make it.
"It was wide-open field."
With a burst of speed, Bethel maneuvered his way past the linebackers and flew down the sideline for the score.
With a two-point conversion by Steve Bethel, the Huskies turned a 15-point deficit into a three-point lead with 42.3 seconds remaining.
"I was just happy for him," Steve Bethel said of his brother's touchdown. "He needs to do some of that good stuff. He's had a hard season."
B-H attempted four straight passes, but none found a receiver and the Huskies advanced to state.
"We made a promise to our mother before she died that we were going to win state," Steve Bethel said in a cracked voice. "That's what we have to do."
Game notes: Wide receiver Adam Brown finished with just 35 yards rushing but each time he touched the ball on a reverse, he either scored or set up a score. He also caught four passes for 35 yards.
It was the third win in a row for Pillager over B-H.
Steve Szczdrowski intercepted a Darrin Kuhnke pass in the third quarter. Mark Gaalswyk sacked Andy Kirscht for a four-yard loss in the second quarter.
Bertha-Hewitt 7 0 14 0 -- 21
Pillager 0 8 0 16 -- 24
BH-Dave Voeltz 29 pass from Darrin Kuhnke (Jason Rurup kick) 9:52
P-Adam Brown 24 run (Jeff Pace run) 1:00
BH-Jake Wilhelmi 2 run (pass failed) 2:42
BH-Kuhnke 1 run (Joey Wiese pass from Kuhnke) 10:28
P-Steve Bethel 4 run (Tony Mason run) 3:54
P-Robert Bethel 24 run (Steve Bethel run) 42.3
First downs -- P 23, BH 12
Rushes-yards -- P 60-290, BH 26-110
Pas comp-att-int-yards -- P 5-7-45, BH 10-23-94
Total offense -- P 67-335, BH 49-204
Fumbles-lost -- P 3-2, BH 1-0
Penalties-yards lost -- P 7-40, BH 4-30
Rushing -- Steve Bethel 27-127, Robert Bethel 9-47, Tony Mason 11-42, Adam Brown 2-35, Steve Szczdrowski 5-22, Jeff Pace 3-12, Lee Roberts 3-5
Passing -- Roberts 4-7-44
Receiving -- Adam Brown 4-35, Ben Broberg 1-10
Overall -- P 9-1, B-H 8-2. Next game -- Pillager at Grand Marais vs. Cook County Friday, Nov. 9.
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