For the first time since 1994 (and after winning just four games and missing the playoffs a season ago), the St. Mary’s Saints are state football champions.
The Saints beat the Wahpeton Huskies 24-22 in the North Dakota Class AA state championship during the Dakota Bowl Nov. 15 at the Fargodome.
St. Mary’s jumped out to an early lead and had a comfortable 28-8 cushion with 3:25 left in the second quarter after a 43-yard field goal kick by all-state soccer player Ryan Matire, which is the longest field goal in the history of the Dakota Bowl.
However, Wahpeton chipped away at the lead in the second half. After cutting the deficit to 24-16 early in the fourth quarter, the Huskies forced another St. Mary’s punt with just under three minutes left in the game. Huskies running back Brock Lingen scored on a 14-yard touchdown run to bring Wahpeton within two with 1:16 remaining—and a two-point conversion pending.
“I told Gus [Smrekar] our safety, ‘Gus, I got this,’” St. Mary’s junior linebacker Noah Krebs said, explaining his thoughts before Wahpeton attempted the two-point conversion that could have tied the game.
Krebs tackled Lingen for a loss on the play, effectively sealing the state championship win for the Saints. “Right place, right timing. I don’t know why this always happens to me,” said Krebs, who forced a key turnover in the Saints’ semifinal win over Fargo Shanley the previous week.
“I’m just happy for the kids,” said St. Mary’s head coach Dan Smrekar after the game, who claimed his fourth state title in his 36th season at the helm. “We’re a little bit undersized, but there’s a whole lot of heart, a whole lot of fight and a whole lot of defense in this group.”
“It’s great to get this school a win. It’s great to get this sports program back on track,” Krebs said.
The win capped an 11-1 season for the Saints. St. Mary’s will graduate only seven seniors from this year’s state championship squad.
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