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Section finals offer greatest thrills

Last Friday’s football thriller at the between Verndale and Underwood at Fargodome reaffirmed long-held belief that the best, and most exciting contests, are played in the section finals.

A berth in the state tournament is the prize both teams are after and they want it so badly they can almost taste it.

The Underwood Rockets left Verndale back in September with a 44-13 loss to mull over during the trip home. Verndale quarterback Dillon Card got all the running and passing room he needed in that game scoring three times himself and throwing two TD passes.

As the season went on the Pirates lost just one regular season game, to the defending state champions, while the Rockets lost two more. It was no surprise when Verndale received Section 4’s top seeding and the Rockets were placed at No. 3.

But if you know something about the recent history of the Rockets you know they have been the Pheasant North’s most consistent winner over the last few years. They turned the Pirates back in the section semifinals last year before losing to Wheaton-Herman-Norcross 6-0 in the finals. They also lost to WHN during the regular season so when they beat the Warriors in the section semifinals 21-0 it had to give them a boost.

The confidence borne from success helped the Rockets post Friday’s down-to-the-wire 13-12 win over the Pirates. In the minds of their players the early September drubbing at Verndale was a setback, not a season.

The Pirates did not come out and blow the Rockets off the field like they did in September but they held them scoreless in the first half and definitely dominated play. They had 188 yards of offense to Underwood’s 48. Noah Thompson, the state’s leading rusher, found himself looking at nothing but green jerseys each time he touched the ball.

The Pirates were the team that racked up first downs, controlled the ball and scored points. Card took the first touchdown in himself and then he found Marcos Gomez open on a deep route for six more.

Late in the game the Pirates were stopped inside the five by the Underwood defense. With the clock ticking down, the Rockets went 97 yards to tie the game and win it on LeRoy Hauge’s extra point kick.

Both teams deserve credit for being at the annual Fargodome party for section finalists. The only negative for the final two clubs to deal with is that only one of them can advance to state.

Making the state tournament is always an honor but it generally played between clubs that have not played each other during the regular season, do not play in the same conference and do not have a history, like Verndale and Underwood. That is what makes section finals so special.