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Adversity no match for Chatfield; Gophers top Knights for state title

Chatfield shows it's far more than a one-man team, beats West Central Area/Ashby in Prep Bowl championship.

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Chatfield players celebrate after the Gophers won the Class AA state football championship game against West Central Area/Ashby on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

MINNEAPOLIS — Much of the success enjoyed by the Chatfield High School football team this season has been credited, in large part, to the eye-popping production of one player.

On Friday, the Gophers, without said player, secured the Class AA state title with the very definition of a team victory.

“Everybody bought in,” Chatfield coach Jeff Johnson said.

With five forced turnovers on defense, one of which went for a touchdown in what eventually proved to be the game-winning score, No. 7-ranked Chatfield locked up its fifth state championship in school history and first since 2013. It came with a narrow 14-13 Prep Bowl win over West Central Area/Ashby at U.S. Bank Stadium.

SEE PHOTOS: Photos: Chatfield, West Centra Area/Ashby football Class AA state championship

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Junior quarterback Sam Backer was forced to miss out on the game due to a suspension, which was upheld by a U.S. District Court decision Friday morning. Backer rushed for over 2,300 yards this season along with 39 touchdowns; imagine not being able to have that guy on the field in the biggest game of the season.

The Gophers didn’t have to imagine. That’s exactly what they had to overcome on Friday to get the job done.

And in the end, they showed that, as a team, they’re much more than one player.

“It’s satisfying. There’s no other way to put it,” said Johnson, who now has two state titles to his name over his 15 years at the helm.

“Our kids grind. Hard. They run. They tackle. They’re physical. And most of them weren’t born with that ability. They worked their tails off.”

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West Central Area/Ashby running back Anthony Sykora, center, is down short of the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt to take the lead during the Class AA state football championship game against Chatfield on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

Sophomore quarterback Parker Delaney was the one to replace Backer at quarterback Friday, and he performed admirably, kickstarting the game with an 18-yard run on the Gophers’ first play from scrimmage before finishing with 35 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts. Delaney also finished 5 of 13 passing for 67 yards.

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Those aren’t Backer-level numbers, to be sure. But they didn’t have to be.

In support of Delaney, the Chatfield defense stepped up with yet another stout performance, limiting its opponent to fewer than 20 points for the 10th time this season.

“We stepped up to the plate, that’s for sure,” Johnson said. “Our defense is tough.”

Junior Carter Daniels secured two of the Gophers’ five turnovers on defense, the first of which went for the aforementioned defensive touchdown. With the Knights facing third-and-8, seniors Grady Schott and Campbell Berge combined on a sack of West Central Area/Ashby quarterback Evan Paulson, who then fumbled directly into the waiting arms of Daniels, who returned the fumble 31 yards for a TD to regain a one-score lead for the Gophers with 7 minutes and 52 seconds remaining in the first half.

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Chatfield quarterback Parker Delaney (14) stretches to the end zone for a rushing touchdown during the Class AA state football championship game against West Central Area/Ashby on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

Daniels later recovered another fumble — forced by junior Cole Johnson — in the latter stages of the same quarter, deep in Chatfield territory at the 19-yard line, stymying an otherwise promising drive for the Knights just before halftime.

“We just played our hearts out,” said junior Isaac Erding, who captured two turnovers of his own for Chatfield, including the game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter.

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“No matter what happened, this was our last game of the year, win or lose. We just played as hard as we could.”

An eventful second quarter, which featured five combined turnovers — including three in a wild 50-second span late in the period — was followed up by a relatively uneventful third quarter, as both sides traded fruitless drives until the early part of the fourth quarter.

That’s when things got interesting.

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Chatfield running back Kailan Schott (23) finds room to run during the Class AA state football championship game against West Central Area/Ashby on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

In a drive that started with 10:05 remaining in regulation, the Knights found themselves marching into Chatfield territory at the 34-yard line. That’s when West Central Area/Ashby running back Mattson Hoff appeared to fumble on a second-down run, a fumble that was then recovered by Chatfield junior Eli Hopp and returned for a 70-yard touchdown.

Minutes later, the touchdown call was reversed following a video review, allowing the Knights to reclaim possession of the ball at the Gophers’ 26-yard line with a fresh set of downs.

Six plays later, Paulson punched in a 1-yard score on a QB sneak to bring the Knights back within a point, 14-13.

Then they called a timeout. An opportunity to attempt a 2-point conversion, and subsequently seize a late lead, was suddenly on the table.

“I figured I’d see what the kids wanted to do, because I trust them 100 percent,” West Central Area/Ashby coach Nate Wood said. “If they had a feeling like they wanted to go for it, or kick the extra point, we probably would have done either. And it was unanimous that everyone wanted to go for it.

And so they did.

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Chatfield's Carter Daniels (5) recovers a fumble and returns it for a touchdown during the Class AA state football championship game against West Central Area/Ashby on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

The Knights lined up to for the 2-point attempt, looking to win the game, and initially, it seemed as though junior running back Anthony Sykora had indeed broken the plane of the goal line with the football. The referees even signaled as such, striking fear in the hearts of the Chatfield faithful in attendance.

But once again, a video review was called for. And thankfully for the Gophers, Sykora was deemed to have fallen just short, thereby preserving a one-point lead for the Gophers with just 3:51 to play.

“Good thing the review was to our advantage this time,” Jeff Johnson said with a smile.

From there, Chatfield was able to close things out. The Gophers reached their own 48-yard line with their very next offensive possession. That set up Berge, also their punter, who pinned the Knights back on their own 6-yard line with 1:24 on the clock. A few seconds later, Paulson was intercepted by Erding, and the celebration was on.

“We all bought in to what we had to do to reach the pinnacle,” Jeff Johnson said. “And if you’re going to get here to win, your whole team better buy into it, and that’s what we saw in the last 3-4 games, and in the whole season. It’s as simple as that. Our kids bought in, and they put in hard work.

“They earned it. That was our team motto. They earned it all summer long, and now they had to earn it on the field, and they did.”

CHATFIELD 14, WEST CENTRAL AREA/ASHBY 13

CHAT 6 8 0 0 — 14

WCAA 7 0 0 6 — 13

First quarter

CHAT — Parker Delaney 6 run (pass failed), 7:21.

WCAA — Cole Anderson 30 pass from Evan Paulson (Paulson kick), 3:06.

Second quarter

CHAT — Carter Daniels 31 fumble return (Grady Schott pass from Drew O’Connor), 7:52.

Fourth quarter

WCAA — Paulson 1 run (run failed), 3:51.

TEAM STATISTICS

CHAT WCAA

First downs 12 12

Total net yards 210 289

Rushes-yards 38-143 31-68

Passing yards 67 221

Comp.-att.-int. 5-14-2 16-30-3

Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-2

Penalties-yds. 6-30 4-20

Punts-avg. 5-181 3-103

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: CHAT — Kailan Schott 10-71, Delaney 13-35, Jackson Schild 8-32, Grady Schott 5-17, Team 2-minus 12; WCAA — Anthony Sykora 21-63, Mattson Hoff 1-5, Hunter Norby 6-1, Paulson 3-minus 1.

PASSING: CHAT — Delaney 5-13-2-67; WCAA — Paulson 15-29-3-203, Sykora 1-1-0-18.

RECEIVING: CHAT — Grady Schott 1-31, Cole Johnson 1-15, Luke Carrier 1-13, O’Connor 1-4, Schild 1-4; WCAA — Norby 4-71, Anderson 4-67, Hoff 4-33, Sykora 3-33, Ryder Staples 1-17.

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