MINOT — All year long, the Valley City High School football team proved it could play with the best teams in the AA East, losing by only six points to Shanley High School eight points to Grafton, the top two playoff seeds from the East.
For that reason, the team felt pretty confident entering Saturday's quarterfinal playoff game with Bishop Ryan, the top seed in the AA West region.
"I don't want to take anything away from Minot Ryan, of course, but we felt like we played competitive football every game that we played this season and I told our guys 'I'm not worried about you showing up flat, you've never been flat, we've been in every game,'" Valley City coach Scott Roehrich said.
All Roehrich wanted to see from his players was a competitive effort, which they got, plus a little more as Valley City got ahead early and never let go of the lead in a 24-14 win over the Lions at Herb Parker Stadium on the Minot State University campus.
The win puts the Hi-Liners in the AA state semifinals for the second time in the last three years. They'll play at Grafton at 2 p.m. Saturday in a rematch of the teams' regular season finale.
Saturday, Valley City stuck to what has worked all season long — a solid running game with limited, but well designed, passing plays, along with a defensive effort that kept the Lions from scoring in the second half.
But that's not to say it was an easy win. For the most part, the teams played equally. The Hi-Liners took a 14-16 lead at halftime and it wasn't until the closing minutes that they got another touchdown to put it away.
The game changer started with a drive that the Lions hoped to capitalize on.
With 3:16 left in the game, Valley City had given Bishop the ball at their own 31, and the Lions got an eight yard run from Chase Fugere. On second and two, the Hi-Liners tackled Austin Eggl for a loss, forcing the Lions to go to the pass game.
Though Eggl completed a pass to Broderick Bosch, he was quickly hit, fumbling the ball near midfield, which was picked up by the Hi-Liners with 2:11 left to play.
The Hi-Liners used a few runs to get to the 33, and on a crucial fourth-and-one opted for a play action pass call that left two of Valley City's receivers open.
Svenningsen connected on a pass to Tayler Lentz to put it away. Anthony Olstad ran in the two-point conversion following to make it 24-14 with 1:02 left to play.
Otherwise, it was a close one.
Valley City started the game with a drive that lasted just under nine minutes. They used runs from Shane Undem, Anthony Olstad and Dustin Lindgren to get bursts of yards.
Olstad got the ball in the red zone when he started at the 28 and ran it up to the Lions' nine. The defender was called for a facemask, which gave Valley City the ball at the six. Though the Hi-Liners were stopped on three consecutive plays, they went for it on fourth-and-goal from the four and got a new set of downs on a pass interference call.
The team eventually scored on a seven-yard sweep by Undem, who also converted the two-point run to make it 8-0 with 3:16 left in the first quarter.
But Bishop Ryan brought it right back, using Fugere to move the ball up. The Lions scored on a five-yard run by Eggl, who faked the handoff before taking it in with 25.9 seconds left in the quarter. A kick made it 8-7 in Valley City's favor.
Valley City ran a play to end the first quarter, then continued controlling the clock with its run game as the Hi-Liners moved up the field. Along the way, Svenningsen hit Lentz with a 17-yard pass as the team worked its way down the field.
Svenningsen used his legs to score the Hi-Liners second touchdown of the game, sneaking in a seven-yard run up the middle, then getting two more points on a conversion pass to Kyle Knutson.
The teams each had a drive that ended in a change of possession before Minot got the ball back late in the half and drove the ball 91 yards for a touchdown on a pass from Eggl to Nick Berentson. On the play, Berentson caught the ball around the seven, but broke a VCHS tackle to get in the end zone. A point after kick made it 16-14, which remained until the Hi-Liners scored again late in the game.
Though Valley City was unable to score until the closing minutes, the defense kept the Lions from getting into a strong offensive rhythm.
As the clock wound out, the Hi-Liners looked visibly happy despite the near-freezing temperatures.
"Just look at the smiles on their faces, the satisfaction of all the hard work the kids have put in over the summer and all year," Roehrich said. "We've got a great group of young men and I'm happy for them because their work definitely showed."