GRAFTON — As the Valley City High School football team walked off the Grafton High School football field following Saturday's 14-8 loss to Grafton in the state semifinals, there were plenty of emotions. A hint of frustration, a bit of sadness.
But the final result, as VCHS coach Scott Roehrich was concerned, was pride.
"I'm proud of the work the guys did," Roehrich said. "They represented their town and themselves in classy ways."
The game ended the season for the Hi-Liners, while the Spoilers will play in the Dakota Bowl next weekend against Shanley.
The Hi-Liners continued their strong defensive efforts, limiting Grafton to only two touchdowns.
Similar to the first time the teams met though, it was Grafton quarterback Christian Lunde who proved the be the biggest thorn in the Hi-Liners' sides.
Not only did he provide the bulk of his team's rushing yards and have plenty of success throwing the ball, but even defensively Lunde made the big plays.
During the Spoilers' third drive of the game, which started at VCHS's own 32-yard line, the Hi-Liners had Grafton ready to punt on fourth-and-eight.
But when a Hi-Liner jumped offsides and made it fourth-and-three, Lunde took the ball and broke out on a 15-yard run, taking it to the VCHS 11.
Though the Spoilers lost yards on consecutive penalties, Lunde completed two passes, including 12-yarder to Matt Mendoza, who took it into the endzone just under a minute into the second quarter.
The Hi-Liners tied it up 8-8 before halftime and kept Grafton from scoring in the third.
Early in the fourth, the Spoilers got the ball back but were limited to six yards on the first two plays of the drive. Lunde then had a 10-yard run and a 20-yard pass, followed shortly after by another 14-yard pass to get it to the 11.
Lunde then rushed the ball four consecutive times, scoring on a 4-yard sneak up the middle on a a fourth-and-three. He was stopped at the goal line on the two-point conversion, but the Hi-Liners were left trailing.
When the Hi-Liners got the ball back, they drove towards midfield, but were stopped on consecutive runs and a false start gave them 3rd and 18, and the Hi-Liners turned the ball over on downs with four and a half left to play.
They got one more shot, getting the ball back at their own five with 1:40 left. Austin Svenningsen started it with a four-yard run, then hit Shane Undem with a pass at the 20.
With just under a minute remaining, Svenningsen threw a ball to a receiver near the 45, which was picked out of the air by Lunde with 47.5 seconds left to put the game away.
The Hi-Liners' only touchdown came late in the second half, then Valley City drove 78 yards in just under two and a half minutes.
Svenningsen provided the bulk of the drive, hitting Kyle Knutson with a 24-yard pass, which was followed by runs from Undem and Anthony Olstad.
Svenningsen then completed passes to Knutson and Tayler Lentz to get to the 20.
The drive ended two plays later when Brandon Breckheimer took the ball in on a six-yard sweep to the left side, which was followed by a conversion pass from Svenningsen to Lentz.
It was a drive that seemed to highlight Valley City's passing game, which was used more frequently as Grafton shut down Valley's run game.
"We're a running team, but they really shut our running game down," Roehrich said, crediting Svenningsen for playing well.
The Hi-Liners finish the year 6-4, with two losses to Grafton. It was the team's first playoff trip since 2010, when they were also eliminated in the state semifinals.
Roehrich said that with his senior heavy team this year, the expectations were high and the team lived up to them.
"I'm not surprised we're here," he said.