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As the stands emptied Thursday night at Hanna Field, things were seemingly quiet inside the stadium. But in the parking lot, there was a hint of celebration as fans honked their horns and exchanged high fives before driving off for the night. It wasn't without reason.
With a 40-14 win over Central Cass, the Valley City High School team clinched its return to the Class AA state playoffs for the first time since 2010.
It was a win in which Valley City fell behind on the opening drive, but got ahead late in the first quarter and never let up.
"Our kids played well tonight on both sides of the football," Valley City coach Scott Roehrich said. "I give them a lot of credit too because Central Cass came down and scored right away, but they didn't hang their heads."
Instead, Valley City got a touchdown from Anthony Olstad on the team's opening drive, and spent the rest of the game capitalizing on the Hi-Liners strong defense, which showed a different side of its game against the Squirrels.
After the opening drive, not only did the Hi-Liners stop the run and keep pressure on Central Cass quarterback Kyle Schultz, but the team also forced Schultz to throw five interceptions, one of which was run back for a touchdown by Tayler Lentz. The other four set the Hi-Liners up for drives that ended with touchdowns.
Lentz's touchdown came on the third play after Olstad's touchdown.
The Squirrels were deep in their own territory following a kickoff that was stopped at the 10-yard line. On third-and-eight, the Squirrels threw a ball in Lentz's direction at the 24 yard line, which he ran all the way back in with eight seconds left in the first quarter. After Olstad ran in the two-point conversion, Valley City took a 14-8 lead.
Lentz later snagged two more of Schultz's passes and also had a receiving touchdown.
"Tayler played a good game tonight," "He's a good high school football player and on parents night, and possibly his last night on the (home) field, it's quite a night for him to remember."
But he wasn't the only one snagging balls from the sky.
Early in the second quarter, Valley City forced a punt. On the first play after the punt, Valley City fumbled and Central Cass recovered it.
Valley City got it right back, though, when Kyle Knutson intercepted a pass on the first play of Central Cass's drive.
After another quickdrive by Valley City, Knutson caught a touchdown pass on a 28-yard throw from Austin Svenningsen, who had two touchdown throws on five completions.
The touchdown gave Valley City a 20-8 lead going into halftime.
After the break, Valley City went three-and-out to start the second half, but Lentz quickly got back into it defensively.
Central Cass started their first drive of the half with two runs and a sack by Brandon Breckheimer. On third-and-12, the Squirrels went to the air, where Lentz had his second interception, which he returned 20-yards to the Central Cass 35.
The Hi-Liners then had a 20-yard run from Dustin Lindgren and to get the ball in the red zone. A short run by Olstad got it to the 13. Svenningsen then had his second touchdown on a 13-yard throw to Lentz. A failed conversion made it 26-0 with 7:25 in the third.
Central Cass' next drive lasted only four plays. It ended on a pass that was tipped at the line by six-foot-six-inch Spencer Meyer, who also grabbed it when it came down at the 50.
VCHS ran the ball the rest of the way, going up 32-8 on a 15-yard run by Shane Undem.
The next Central Cass drive ended, again, with an interception by Lentz on the fifth play in. Lentz grabbed the ball after it had deflected off a receiver and was taken down at midfield.
The Hi-Liners used the ensuing drive to burn time off the clock, ending the third quarter on a short run by Olstad. The drive ended five and a half minutes into the third on a three-yard run by Olstad. Though the initial two-point conversion run failed, Central Cass was called for both a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct, which allowed Olstad to convert a run from a half-yard out, making it 40-8.
Central Cass scored on one final drive before the end of the game.
Valley City has one more game left in the regular season Tuesday at No. 2 Grafton. A win could move Valley City up in the seeding for the state tournament, depending on how other games turn out.