All night long Friday, it looked like the Belle Fourche Broncs were going to get the best of St. Thomas More in a huge Black Hills Conference football game at Dutton Field.
Luckily for the Cavaliers, the game wasn't decided in the first three quarters.
STM overcame a 20-7 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to top the Broncs 21-20 to stay alive for a Class A playoff berth.
"At the beginning of the year I told them, 'We're young and we have to learn how to win.' Eight games into a season now, we're no longer young," STM coach Wayne Sullivan said. "They're learning how to win when it's a tight game, they're learning how to win when they're down. When you do that and come together, it's pretty special."
The winning touchdown came with 1:26 remaining when Ryder Kirsch found Sam Mathes on a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Kirsch finished the game 23-of-46 for 225 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
"It was really awesome. Going into halftime we were all kind of down because we didn't come out the way we wanted to come out," Kirsch said. "I think the game tonight was an awesome learning experience and showed us that we're capable of coming back from something like that."
The loss drops Belle Fourche to 4-4, and likely out of playoff contention.
"We lost to a talented team that beat us with what they're good at," Belle Fourche coach Scott Slotten said. "We did a great job stopping it. We probably could have changed coverages a little more because they got comfortable with what we were in. They saw a little hole and took advantage of it twice."
The first quarter was scoreless, but the Broncs changed that with 3:19 to go in the half.
Kelby Olson got the ball from the 3-yard line and bulldozed in for a touchdown. The extra point was good and at the half Belle Fourche led 7-0.
In the first half, the Broncs were able to get consistent pressure on STM, but Sullivan said some adjustments in blocking and better play from Kirsch in the second half made that pressure disappear.
"We knew we were going to go empty, and that gave us some time to pick our areas," Sullivan said. "Ryder did a better job of getting the ball out in the second half. We wants to make a play, and I have to get him to get it out of his hands. But in the second half he was making his reads."
Still, after getting the ball to start the second it was Belle Fourche that struck first, when Olson scored again, this time from 2 yards out with 9:50 left in the quarter.
Olson finished with 90 yards on 35 carries with two touchdowns.
St. Thomas More got on the board with 3:14 remaining in the quarter when Kirsch found Andrew Smith for the 12-yard TD passs, but on the ensuing kickoff, Morgen Garrett took the kick 87 yards to the end zone to put the Broncs up 20-7, which is what the score would be at the end of the quarter.
In the fourth, it was Kirsch and the Cavs offense that flexed its muscles.
"He's getting better each week," Sullivan said of Kirsch. "Of course we can always get better, but leading the team to victory bodes well for the quarterback. Once you make those plays, then everyone will run through a wall for you."
It started with 8:15 remaining in the fourth when Kirsch found Grant Huber for a 7-yard TD pass, and it was Huber who made a big play on defense later in the quarter.
With 2:29 to go, the Broncs tried a halfback pass with Olson, but Huber picked it off to give STM a chance. That was all it would need.
The Cavs marched down the field in nine plays and went 65 yards. Kirsch was 4-of-8 on the final drive, and was able to find Mathes in the end zone with 1:26 left.
The Cavs defense held on, improving them to 5-3.
"I think it's awesome. I think now going into our next game against Todd County, and hopefully into the playoffs we'll have all the momentum," Kirsch said. "I think we can make a good run."
For Belle Fourche, the season will likely end with Douglas next Thursday, but Slotten wants to make the most of it.
"I still think we're talented enough to be a playoff team in this state," he said. "You have to keep their spirits up. It's a missed P.A.T. from going into overtime and entertaining this crowd even more. Every point counts, and it's a tough thing to learn that way. We have one more week to play football. These seniors have busted their butts for me, it's a great group that I love to death, and we're going to have a lot of fun next week."
Kickoff from Belle Fourche will be 6 p.m. while STM heads to Mission to take on Todd County at 5 p.m.