VERMILLION – Wolsey-Wessington and Dell Rapids St. Mary both entered the Class 9B title game on a roll offensively. In the playoffs, the top-ranked Warbirds were averaging 38 points per game, while St. Mary was putting up 35.
But Thursday’s championship game turned into a defensive struggle at the start as points came at a premium in the first half. After leading 18-0 at the break, the Warbirds’ depth on offense slowly wore St. Mary down as Wolsey-Wessington won its second state title with a 32-14 win at the DakotaDome.
Quarterback Corbin Haarmeyer was named the game’s MVP. He was 14-for-16 for 173 yards and a touchdown pass and also rushed for 57 yards. The Cardinals never sacked Haarmeyer, and the senior was nearly perfect all day.
St. Mary is big up front, and scouting reports around the state come to the same conclusion: the Cards pound inside on both sides of the ball. Wolsey-Wessington took advantage of the outside, and the Cards had difficulty containing Haarmeyer on almost every drive.
“We knew that they were going to be physical, and we knew we could get to the outside and throw it a little,” said Wolsey-Wessington coach Gordon Hooks, who guided the school to a Class 9AA title in 2015. “That’s where our advantage was. Corbin made some great calls to make some clutch plays on third down."
It’s not like the Cardinals didn’t have their chances in the first half. After WW scored on the game’s opening drive on a 14-yard run from Eric Klanchnik, the Cardinals had a 12-play 41-yard drive that stalled on downs at the WW 39 yard line.
Klanchnik scored again just six plays later and WW built a 12-0 lead. But again, DRSM had an efficient drive going, aided by a 4th-and-2 conversion on their own 36-yard line. St. Mary lined up in punt formation before coach Ross Flemmer used a timeout. The Cards broke the timeout and quarterback C.J. Smith was under center.
The gamble worked, and running back Connor Libis rushed for a first down on the last play of the first quarter.
“Offensively they were rolling,” Libis said of the 4th-and-2 call . “I yelled, ‘We can’t punt. If we give them the ball it’s going to be game over.’”
Libis later ripped off a 25-yard run on the drive and the Cards were in business at the WW 20 yard line, down 12-0. But again, the efficient drive stalled and the Cards turned it over on downs on the WW 16-yard line.
Although the Warbirds were up 12-0 after the crucial stop in the red zone, they had only a 121-117 advantage in total yardage. Despite the deficit, St. Mary was still in the game and keeping up with the WW offense.
“We made some mistakes that hurt us, but we were there,” Flemmer said. “We were right there.”
LAST SIGNS OF LIFE FOR CARDS
Down 18-0 entering the third quarter, you could hardly blame St. Mary for not panicking. Just one week earlier in their 30-22 semifinal win over Kadoka Area, the Cards trailed 20-0 in the third quarter.
It looked like they might be onto something again against Wolsey-Wessington.
On the opening drive of the second half, Libis took a pitch from Smith. Libis began his run around the outside, but pulled up and heaved a 45-yard touchdown strike to Nic Gaspar and St. Mary began what looked like another potential second-half comeback at 18-8.
“I wasn’t surprised at that,” Hooks said. “We knew it was coming. We knew Libis was their best passer. He just made a nice pass and we blew our coverage.”
St. Mary was able to hold WW on its next possession, and hopes of cutting it to one score was in the air on the St. Mary sideline. But this time, a fourth-down gamble didn’t pay off, and the Cards turned it over on downs on their own 38-yard line. Eight plays later, Haarmeyer hit Carson Zomer for a 30-yard score and things were beginning to get out of reach with WW up 26-8 midway through the fourth quarter.
LIBIS BACK AT QUARTERBACK
Libis started at quarterback his sophomore and junior year with the Cards. He played the position in only the first two games this year as Flemmer moved him to running back to get him more touches.
But he played the entire fourth quarter under center in the championship game, going 9-for-13 for 123 yards. His touchdown strike to Sam Palmer with just under seven minutes to play cut it to 26-14, and for a brief moment, St. Mary had life.
“Never did we think we were out of it,” Flemmer said. “We shot ourselves in the foot and let ourselves get down 18.”
“We just wanted to play. We talked about it before we even knew we were going to play in Zoom meetings. That’s when I knew we had a talented group, because it didn’t matter who we played, it didn’t matter what position they were going to play – they just wanted to play. Our number one goal all year was just to simply keep playing." – Hooks when asked if he’s surprised the 2020 season was played in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.