Braden Zuroff put on a show Friday night, and in the process, helped the New Salem-Almont-Glen Ullin Holsteins capture the 9-man Region 5 championship.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior running back racked up 255 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns on plays totaling 237 yards as the No. 5-ranked Holsteins outlasted No. 3 Shiloh Christian 36-34 at Miller Field in the regular-season finale for both teams. New Salem-AGU improved to 7-0 in region play and 8-0 overall. Shiloh, which had its 40-game regular-season winning streak snapped, fell to 6-1 in the region and 7-1 overall. The Skyhawks will host an opening-round playoff game next Saturday. New Salem-AGU will have a bye.
Zuroff hauled in a 71-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Evan Henke with 9:54 remaining in the second quarter to breath life into a Holsteins team that had fallen behind 14-0. Henke later passed to Garret Soupir for the 2-point conversion to make it 14-8.
"It's tough to beat this team on their field and they made it a lot tougher by going ahead 14-0. We really needed a big play," said Zuroff, who caught Henke's deep pass near midfield and didn't stop running until he reached the end zone. "I saw Evan scrambling and I just tried to get open downfield. He threw me a perfect pass ... he hit me in stride."
The Holsteins went on to hold the Skyhawks on downs on their own 4, but later faced a third-and-40 from their 7. However, Zuroff took a handoff, found an opening in the middle and then broke away for a 93-yard touchdown run. Henke's 2-pointer put New Salem-AGU ahead 16-14 with 35.2 seconds left in the half.
"Braden is such an explosive player. He can really make things happen," said New Salem-AGU coach Steve Kleinjan. "To beat a team like Shiloh, you have to make plays, and the two plays Braden made in the first half turned the tide in our favor. A lot of kids stepped up and made plays for us. It was a definitely a team effort tonight."
The second half was a see-saw affair. Shiloh took a 20-16 lead with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter on a 48-yard pass from quarterback Jaden Mitzel to Trey Brunelle.
However, the Holsteins answered on the ensuing possession with Henke's 26-yard scoring run. Earlier, Zuroff picked up a bobbled snap in a punting situation and ran 28 yards to the Shiloh 46. Henke scored five plays later.
After forcing the Skyhawks to punt, New Salem-AGU marched 88 yards to the end zone in 10 plays, scoring on Henke's 1-yard sneak with 9:59 remaining in the fourth quarter. Henke's 2-point pass to Zuroff made it 30-20.
Brunelle's 70-yard kickoff return put the Skyhawks on the Holsteins' 20, and two plays later, Mitzel scored from a yard out. Canaan Fagerland's 2-pointer pulled Shiloh within two, 30-28, with 9:30 left.
Enter Zuroff ... again.
Four plays after the ensuing kickoff, Zuroff and Henke connected on a 73-yard scoring pass to give the Holsteins a 36-28 lead with 7:46 left.
The Skyhawks trimmed the deficit to two less than three minutes later on a 34-yard TD pass from Mitzel to Brunelle, but Bartholomew Ogbu couldn't hold on to Mitzel's pass in the end zone on the 2-point play.
The Holsteins began their next possession on their own 29, and three plays later, Henke found Soupir for a 22-yard gain on third-and-ll. Later, a Henke pass fell incomplete on a third-and-10 play, but the Skyhawks were penalized for holding. That gave New Salem-AGU a first down on the Shiloh 30 with 1:26 left. The Skyhawks had one timeout remaining, and the Holsteins managed to run out the clock.
"It was a great game ... just like everyone expected," Zuroff said. "Both teams made big plays, but we managed to make a few more. This was a great way to close out the (regular) season. Now we're looking forward to the playoffs."
Henke threw for 222 yards and rushed for 104.
Shiloh caught a break just two plays into the game when Henke fumbled the ball away on the New Salem-AGU 20. Six plays later, Fagerland scored on a 3-yard run and later added the 2-point conversion.
It stayed 8-0 until the 10:51 mark of the second quarter, when Mitzel flipped a 2-yard scoring pass to Brunelle.
Fagerland carried 24 times for 105 yards, and Mitzel completed eight of 16 passes for 180 yards.
"Both teams showed lots of resilience tonight. This was so much like a playoff game," said Shiloh coach Funnon Barker. "Give New Salem credit. They played great and deserved to win. We played well, too, but we know there are things that we need to get better at if we expect to win in the playoffs."