BUFFALO — The Herreid/Selby Area Wolverines proved to be unstoppable in the second half, while the Harding County Ranchers might have just stopped themselves.
The result was a huge comeback for the Wolverines, who stopped the Ranchers 54-32 Friday night in the Class 9B state football semifinal game at Ab Penn Field.
Things were looking like another trip to the state title game for Harding County under head coach Jay Wammen, as the Ranchers were explosive and took advantage of a couple of Wolverine turnovers to take a 10-point lead into the halftime break.
But Herreid/Selby Area was explosive as well and shot out of the gates into the third quarter and would go on to outscore Harding County 38-6 in the second half to punch their ticket to the state title game against Colman-Egan Thursday in Brookings.
Harding County, 9-2, saw two impressive drives stall deep in Wolverine territory in the third period and was hampered by penalties (16 for 145 yards), especially in the second half.
In the long run, mistakes did in the Ranchers.
"We knew we had to play a clean game coming into this to beat them, not shoot ourselves in the foot," Wammen said. "We had over 20 penalties (16) tonight. Anytime you are backing ourselves up 10 or 20 yards per drive, it is kind of hard to keep those drives going."
Herreid/Selby Area, meanwhile, just kept pushing forward, led by quarterback Wade Begeman and running back Clayton Randall II.
Randall had a monster game on the ground for the Wolverines, rushing the ball 30 times for 197 yards and six touchdowns. Begeman added 14 carries for 49 yards and one score.
The Herreid/Selby Area line had total control in the second half, but the Wolverine running game broke many of those short runs into long gains.
"In the second half, they started turning those 3- or 4-yard gains into 10, 15-yard gains. That is what did us in, I guess," Wammen said.
The first half, however, was all Wammen could ask for from his team as it kept answering the Wolverines and then some, leading 12-8 at the end of the first quarter and 26-16 at the break.
Senior quarterback Camden Hett and senior running back Sam Adams were nearly unstoppable themselves, especially Hett, who had 358 yards of offense in the game.
The two teams took turns at the lead early, with Hett hitting Adams on a 25-yard TD pass (2-point run failed), with the Wolverines answering on a 14-yard run by Randall II. Herreid/Selby Area got the 2-point conversion — no extra point kicks were attempted), and led 8-6.
Hett came back again and punched it in from 1-yard out for a 12-8 lead, only to see the Wolverines answer with eight more points on a 1-yard run by Randall.
The Ranchers then looked as if they would take control with two late scores — the second coming off of an interception by Zack Anders, who had two pics in the first half.
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Hett burst through the line and ran down the left sideline for an impressive 65-yard TD run, and then hit Adams for the second time, from 32 yards out, with just 47 seconds remaining in the second, for the 10-point lead.
"We knew through our game plan that we could hit a few soft spots in their zone, and we hit those early and often," Wammen said.
Herreid/Selby Area took the second half kickoff and marched right down the field, pulling within two on a 17-yard TD run by Randall. The two-point conversion made it 26-24.
Harding County had a chance to answer but lost the ball on downs on the Wolverine 23-yard line when Hett was stopped for no gain on 4th and 2.
The Wolverines responded and took the lead for the first time since the second period, on an 11-yard touchdown run by Randall, leading 32-26 going into the fourth.
After another missed opportunity by the Ranchers, who lost the ball on downs on the Wolverine 14-yard line, Herreid/Selby Area scored on just a six-play drive — again from Randall from 15 yards out.
The Wolverines put the game away with two final scores — a 55-yard TD run by Begeman and a 4-yard run by Randall.
Herreid/Selby Area coach Clayton Randall said they didn't change a thing coming into the second half. They just executed.
"All I want to say is where we are at right now is because of these three guys behind me," Coach Randall said of Randall II, Begeman and Todd Oberle Jr. "We were down 14 in the first round, we were down eight last week. We got down to these guys but there was no panic, no fear. We have leaders who are seniors, and that is the reason we are where we are at now."
Despite having more total yards than the Wolverines (407-392), Wammen said it just wasn't their night.
"I believe we are a very evenly matched team, and if we play them again, I think it is a 50-50 game," he said. "But unfortunately for our seniors, our team and our coaches, we don't get a chance to play another week. That is the tough part."
Hett closed his high school career with an outstanding night, as he carried the football 19 times for 193 yards and completed 9-of-16 passes for 165 yards and two scores.
Adams ran 14 times for 49 yards and caught five passes for 118 yards and the two scores.
"I'm proud of all of the kids tonight," Wammen said. "They left it all out on the field, but tonight wasn't our night."
Herreid/Selby Area, 9-2, came into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and will face top seed Colman-Egan in the first title game on Thursday afternoon. Colman-Egan beat Wolsey-Wessington 46-36.
"It is going to be crazy," Begeman said. "Going to Brookings at SDSU, the field is amazing. We've never played on turf before, so that might be interesting. But I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun."