NORTH SIOUX CITY | Incredible is one of the best words to describe perhaps the most memorable of Jeff Van Den Hul’s victories in his five seasons as Dakota Valley’s head football coach.
Improbable is another.
Austin Carter concluded a rally from a 35-14 fourth-quarter deficit when he not only caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Zach Poulsen, but he fired a two-point conversion pass to Jack McCabe with 20 second left to tie this key Dakota XII Conference game against fourth-ranked Tri-Valley.
Third-ranked Dakota Valley blocked an extra-point after the Mustangs’ Logan Mathieu scored on a 5-yard run three plays into overtime. Nathan Rice then capped his amazing night when he fired a 10-yard wing option pass to Luke Johnson and Trey Bowen added the extra-point kick to give the Panthers a crazy 42-41 victory in front of a fired-up crowd at Robert L. Peterson Memorial Stadium.
“This is crazy,” said Rice, who not only threw two option touchdown passes, he also returned an interception 88 yards for a touchdown that lifted the Panthers within 35-27 with 1:57 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I thought this was a crazy team win. We kept our heads together. We kind of just went through it. It was a battle out there.”
Dakota Valley is 4-0 for the first time in Van Den Hul’s five coaching seasons. En route to the team’s second win over a state-ranked opponent this season, his team pulled within 35-20 as Jake Likness, the squad’s rushing leader with 91 yards, galloped 56 yards for a touchdown with 5:13 left. It came exactly 31 seconds after the game’s rushing leader, Tri-Valley’s Landon Freeman (217 yards) scored his third touchdown of the night, a 68-yarder for the three-touchdown lead.
“I’m emotional. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Van Den Hul. “I’ve been doing this a long time. We could have quit, but the kids didn’t. We kept digging and we pulled out the impossible. We were just hanging on. They were gashing us. Everything they were doing, we were trying to figure it out.”
Tri-Valley (3-1) stormed back from a 14-7 deficit to score touchdowns on three straight second-half possessions, highlighted by 44- and 68-yard scoring runs from Freeman. The Mustangs were threatening to increase their lead by a possible 28 points when Rice snared the Panthers’ second interception of the game to stop a six-play, 35-yard scoring drive.
“It was crazy, the adrenaline was pumping and everything,” said Rice. “I was real happy we were getting back in the game. This was a big comeback.”
Rice followed the interception by recovering an onside kick at Tri-Valley’s 49-yard line to launch a six-play scoring drive that featured Johnson’s 35-yard catch at the 5-yard line. Rice was thrown for losses of one and two yards, but the Panthers eventually scored and the excitement continued.
Rice fired his first wing option pass of the season for a 59-yard touchdown to Jevin Kratz that tied the game 7-7 with 10 seconds left in the first quarter. He was 2-for-2 in that department with Johnson’s overtime catch.
“I just kind of looked for my spot, I saw it and I caught it,” said Johnson. “Then I just dove for it. I saw the ref put his hands up and I knew we had to finish. Two touchdown passes from Rice, you don’t see that every day. It was a beauty and it got the job done. Nate is a great teammate and a great warrior who works hard in practice. Him and the offensive line deserve a bunch of credit for that play.”
Rice, needless to say, hopes the wing option pass remains in the Panthers’ playbook heading into this Friday’s game at Milbank Area. He’s the team leader with 365 yards rushing.
“Rice is a heck of a football player who will do anything we need him to do,” said Van Den Hul. “(The wing option pass) is a designed play in our book. We run really well with our counter and throw a pass off it every once in a while. We have a few different things in our playbook and we had to show a few of them to get through this game tonight.”