Killdeer fullback Tony Kluver, 44, takes a handoff from quarterback Alex Sadowsky during Saturday’s Class A state playoff game with Velva-Sawyer at the Cowboy Sports Complex. The Aggies took advantage of six turnovers and defeated the Cowboys 28-9. (Photo by Bryan Gallegos)
There were hugs Saturday afternoon at the Killdeer Sports Complex. Players smiled and gave each other happy high-fives, giddy fans slapping the players on the back and eagerly talking about the next game.
It was a scene that played out time and time again this season for the Killdeer High School football team.
Not this time. The Cowboys could only watch as the Aggies from Velva-Sawyer celebrated their shocking 28-9 upset victory in the first round of the Class A playoffs on Saturday. Velva-Sawyer, which avenged a 33-0 loss to Killdeer in last year’s state semifinal game, broke the game open with a 20-point first quarter.
The Aggies will prepare for another road game, this time at Des Lacs-Burlington for the quarterfinals. As for the Cowboys, they will get an early start preparing for the Winter sports season.
“I guess it’s time to focus on our next sport,” said Ty Truchan, the Cowboys fiery linebacker who recorded Killdeer’s only sack of Velva-Sawyer quarterback Nick Effertz. “It’s said that it ended this way.”
Truchan, one of seven seniors on the field Saturday, bit his lip and looked away. He sighed softly, his voice wavered a bit, fighting back the sting of the loss that ended prep football career.
Others gave each other heartfelt hugs. There were a few tears in the Cowboys’ somber scene.
The Cowboys were gunning for their third consecutive appearance in the state championship game. Many thought the third time would be the charm to lasso the school’s second state football championship in more than two decades.
But seven turnovers – five fumbles, an interception and a turnover on downs – kept that from happening. It was not characteristic of the Cowboys because prior to Saturday’s game, Killdeer had a season total of 10 turnovers.
“Turnovers hurt us and that gave them momentum and we couldn’t get anything clicking,” said Killdeer head coach Lou Dobitz.
Nope. Not on offense. Not on defense.
The Cowboys’ big mistakes led to big plays by the Aggies, most notably from Effertz and his strong right arm.
Effertz tossed three touchdown passes and ran for another. Two of those touchdown passes came on fourth-down plays. The Aggies were good on five fourth-down plays and on another, the Cowboys were flagged for pass interference that set up a touchdown.
“We tried to take advantage of the opportunities we could get. With the turnovers that were there early on, we took some shots,” said Velva-Sawyer head coach Larry Sandy.
Four of those turnovers occurred after the Cowboys made big plays on the Aggies’ side of the field.
“Turnover are back breakers in playoff games,” Sandy said.
The Aggies shut down the Cowboys explosive offense. They shut down the Cowboys vaunted running game, holding them to less than 100 yards. Dillan Jepson, who rushed for 1,041 yards during the regular season, was held to 38 yards on 12 carries.
“It just wasn’t our day, that’s for sure,” Dobitz said.
The Aggies started the upset train early, and scored on their first four possessions – two after Killdeer fumbles.
After Effertz hooked up with tight end Hunter Bradbandt on a 15-yard scoring play, the Aggies took advantage of a Killdeer fumble and the duo connected again on a 24-yard pass play less than a minute later.
The Aggies took advantage of Killdeer’s second fumble, and, after the Aggies executed a fake punt, Effertz hit Hayden Lee on an 11-yard scoring strike on yet another fourth-down play and then hooked up on the two-point conversion for a 20-0 lead.
They made it 28-0 late in the second period when Effertz scored on a one-yard run.
Killdeer got a break on the Aggies’ next possession when the ball was snapped over Effertz’s head and he kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety.
The Cowboys cut the lead to 28-9 in the third period when Alex Sadowsky scored on a one-yard run. The score was set up by a 45-yard pass play from Sadowsky to Hoyt Zander.
Although the loss was disappointing, Dobitz said he was nonetheless proud of his team for its effort this season. The seniors, he said, showed great leadership.
“There are so many kids that go through their high school career and not get to play in a playoff game. These seniors have played in 11 of them and two state championship games,” Dobitz said.