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Chris Murphy, Published November 02 2012

W-H-N shuts out Underwood 8-0 for section championship

FARGO – Wheaton-Herman-Norcross tight end Gabe Pralle saw an Underwood cornerback and linebacker head the wrong way and he knew no one was behind him.

Pralle watched as the ball soared through the Fargodome toward his hands, and his thoughts went back to last season and how it felt not getting much playing time.

“I thought, ‘If I drop this, I’m going to be off the team, and I can’t come back,’” Pralle said. “It was a pretty intense moment. It was like in slow motion.”

The ball eventually found Pralle’s hands for a 46-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter and helped W-H-N defeat No. 10-ranked Underwood 8-0 in the Minnesota 9-man, Section 4 championship game on Friday.

The Warriors have won back-to-back section championships.

Pralle’s reception was just the second pass by either team in the game, but Warriors quarterback Jake Rinke made it count.

“We have four or five really great running backs, a good line that we rely on, but today I’m happy we can throw up the ‘W’ on that pass,” Rinke said. “I was just thinking, ‘Don’t screw this up,’ when I saw how open he was.”

Even W-H-N coach Tony Thiel was surprised a completed pass was the difference in a game that featured nine passes between both teams, only three of which were completed.

“I definitely didn’t think it would come down to a pass,” Thiel said. “These kids have worked hard all year and we lost a couple games and got no respect, but hopefully we got it back here.”

Underwood scored a total of eight points in the two losses to W-H-N this season, while averaging more than 30 points in its nine wins. The Warriors had the only formula to beat the Rockets.

“It was just the running game,” Pralle said. “You beat them up with the run and it sets up the pass, and they don’t have a lot of backups, so you eventually wear them down.”

It helped that the W-H-N (9-2) defense allowed 130 total yards through the first three quarters and stopped Underwood on its two red zone trips in the second half. The Rockets had a first down on the W-H-N 17-yard line twice in the second half, but could not break past the 10-yard line.

“We knew it was going to be a good, physical game,” Thiel said. “Our defense played really well today. They wanted that first shutout and they got it.”

After a turnover on downs put W-H-N on its own 10-yard line, the Warriors went 3-and-out and punted the ball away, which would have given the ball back to Underwood at midfield with six minutes to play.

W-H-N’s Nick Stafford stripped the punt and Zach Conroy recovered, allowing W-H-N to take three more minutes off the clock and put Underwood back to its own 23-yard line for the last drive of the game.

“Coach told us to hustle and put your heart into every play,” Conroy said with tears putting red in his eyes and straining his voice. “I just jumped on it.”

Underwood would get to the W-H-N 46-yard line, but two penalties, an incomplete pass and a fumble on a snap would end the season for the Rockets (9-2).

“You have to just say they’re the better team,” Underwood coach Chuck Ross said. “They’re big, physical and they get to the ball fast. It was a great year, but we need to do some things in the offseason that put us over the top next year.”

W 0 8 0 0 – 8

U 0 0 0 0 – 0

W-Pralle 46 catch from Rinke (Pralle pass to Rinke)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

PASSING: U, Karst 0-2-0 0, Bauman 1-1-0 3 yards. W, Rinke 2-6-0 64 yards.

RUSHING: U, Creek 22-71, Bauman 16-56, Montgomery 8-40, Karst 9-31, Thompson 2-9. W, Persing 12-32, Raguse 10-40, Thiel 15-74, Rinke 1-5.

RECEIVING: U, Montgomery 1-3. W, Pralle 2-64.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548