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Gregory turns back Warner rally to capture 9A championship

Warner’s Hunter Cramer, right, is pushed back by Gregory’s Rylan Peck, left and Kade Stukel, center, as Cramer tried to get to the end zone during Thursday’s Class 9A championship game at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. Photo by John Davis taken 11/10/2022

VERMILLION – The stage was all set for another dramatic Warner comeback Thursday night, but it turned out that Gorillas are a whole different animal.

Gregory drove 96 yards to regain the momentum and help apply a stranglehold on the Class 9A state football championship en route to a 36-23 victory at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

Unlike erasing a 17-point deficit against Canistota two weeks ago, the Monarchs could not quite climb out of a 24-point hole against Gregory.

“I’m so proud our kids,” said Warner coach Kerwin Hoellein. “Just like when we were in the second round of the playoffs, we had a chance we could have rolled over and died, and these kids competed to the end.”

For sure, Warner made the Gorillas deliver the goods and they proved to be up to the challenge.

“We talked about adversity and that we would see adversity in these big games, because they’re a good team,” said Gregory coach Mike Murray. “Adversity is things that aren’t going your way. Championship teams, I said you cannot let it break you. You can bend, but don’t fall apart. Keep playing football, don’t give up and don’t give it away. And that’s basically what happened.”

Gregory scored on its first three possessions as Rylan Peck sliced and diced his way through the Warner defense for 154 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the first half. However, the Monarchs gained traction as the game wore on and scored in the final minute of the half when Hunter Cramer fired a 26-yard pass to Ashton Schuchhardt.

While the Gorillas scored to start the second half, things began to turn. Warner started to find a rhythm on offense, allowing Cramer more time to throw the ball.

“The first half we weren’t holding the pocket good enough for our quarterback. That changed the second half,” said Warner senior lineman Carter Moen. “We just had to buck it out and get our guy, because they were sending just about everybody every time.”

The Monarchs started a surge when Cramer scored on a 3-yard run, Devin Woosley blocked a punt and Cramer added a 5-yard TD to make it a one-possession game late in the third quarter.

Gregory’s potent ground game all of the sudden dried up and the Monarchs had all the momentum heading into the final period.

After the two teams traded possessions, Warner had Gregory pinned at its own 4-yard line. That’s when the Gorillas put together a 96-yard scoring drive to regain control.

“We got in the huddle,” Peck said, “and I said, ‘We’re putting this in the other end zone, boys. There’s no way around it. We’re going down there’ and that’s exactly what we did.”

Warner’s Devin Woosley, left, grabs the jersey of Gregory’s Rylan Peck, center, as the Monarchs’ Ashton Schuchhardt, right, gets past the Gorillas’ Nathan Fortuna, far right, during Thursday’s Class 9A championship game at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. Photo by John Davis taken 11/10/2022

With the running game bottled up, Gregory turned to its passing game and converted a key 40-yard pass on a third down-and-11 to fuel the drive.

“We knew that they were taking away the run and we had to go to the air,” Murray said. “We had to keep the drive alive, but eventually we needed a big one and we got that big one that put us down there, and that really cracked things open.”

That drive, which was capped by a Peck 1-yard run, assured that Warner would not be able to fully get over the hump.

“We’re a really good second-half team, but unfortunately they just had a better game than we did,” Woosley said. “They were able to bring out some more plays and they were able to have some new moves that we weren’t ready for.”

In the end, that early deficit proved to be just a tad too much for the Monarchs to overcome this time.

“It sucks that we couldn’t come out of it like we did two weeks ago,” Moen said. “At halftime we made some good adjustments, but it just wasn’t enough to really get us out of that hole.”

Warner’s Logan Permann (9) comes up with the ball in the back of the end zone after catching a pass for a two-point conversion as Gregory’s Kade Stukel (17) defended on the play during Thursday’s Class 9A championship game at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. Photo by John Davis taken 11/10/2022

While Warner was able to force Gregory to change its second-half strategy, the Gorillas were able to use their strength up front and speed in the back to maintain their lead.

“Their offensive and defensive line were just a force,” Woosley said. “It was hard for us to copy that strength. They were just a really good front.”

That allowed the Gorillas to get out in space where they did major damage to set the tone for the contest.

“You have to give them credit. They’ve got so many weapons,” Hoellein said. “They have sprinters all over the place and in nine-man football there’s a lot of space.”

Peck, who rushed for 172 yards and passed for 77 more, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and Outstanding Back. Teammate Gunnar Stephens was selected the Outstanding Lineman.

Cramer led a balanced Warner attack with 175 yards passing. Logan Permann finished with 85 yards receiving.

The Monarchs finished their season with an 11-1 record, powered by a solid group of upperclassmen.

Warner head football coach Kerwin Hoellein, left, leans in to talk to his team after Thursday’s Class 9A championship game at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. Photo by John Davis taken 11/10/2022

“We get great leadership out of our seniors,” Hoellein said. “They’re not real big rah-rah guys. They lead by example and we’re here because of them. We’ll miss those guys.”

And there’s no doubt, those seniors will miss donning the Warner uniforms ever again.

“It’s been great playing all four of these years with all of these guys,” Moen said. “I loved every second of it. I’m going to miss it.”

Gregory (11-1) 16 8 6 6 – 36

Warner (11-1) 0 8 15 0 – 23

First Quarter

G – Kade Stukel 1 run (Stukel pass from Rylan Peck), 6:12.

G – Peck 81 run (Owen Hanson run), 2:30.

Second Quarter

G – Peck 23 run (Eli Fogel pass from Peck), 6:57.

W – Ashton Schuchhardt 26 pass from Hunter Cramer (Logan Permann pass from Cramer), :29.

Third Quarter

G – Stukel 13 run (Hanson run), 7:19.

W – Cramer 3 run (Schuchhardt pass from Cramer), 5:15.

W – Cramer 5 run (Alec Mikkelsen kick), 1:20.

Fourth Quarter

G – Peck 1 run (kick failed), 6:12.

OFFENSE: Gregory rushing 48-322 (Peck 15-172, Hanson 16-96, Stukel 13-53, Trey Murray 1-1), passing (5-11-1 for 77), receiving (Fogel 1-40, Hanson 2-13, Murray 1-13, Kade Braun 1-11), first downs 20; Warner rushing 21-53 (Cramer 13-28, Brodey Sauerwein 2-14, Zach Wood 3-7, Charlie Dulany 3-4), passing 11-26-1 for 213 (Cramer 9-22-1- for 175, Sauerwein 2-4-0 for 38), receiving (Permann 2-85, Wood 3-46, Jesiah Baum 3-30, Schuchhardt 2-29, Payton Volk 1-23), first downs 10.

DEFENSE: Gregory, Stukel 8 tackles, Murray 7 tackles, Gunnar Stephens 6 tackles and 1 sack; Warner, Schuchhardt 16 tackles, Preston Cavalier 9 tackles, Cramer 8 tackles, Landon Jensen 8 tackles and 1 sack, Devin Woosley 7 tackles.

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