The seventh time was the charm for the Deacons.
A late St. Mary’s comeback bid came up short, and Fargo Shanley halted the Saints’ winning streak in the Class AA football rivalry.
The Deacons knocked off defending state champion Bismarck St. Mary’s in a battle of the lone unbeaten teams in Class AA football. No. 2-ranked Shanley held on to beat the top-ranked Saints, 17-14 at the MDU Resources Community Bowl.
“They’re a good team,” said Saints coach Dan Smrekar. “We knew it would be a tough battle. Two good teams playing hard.
“They were able to run the ball a little up the middle on us and they got a lot of big third-down plays on us.”
“We did beat a good football team,” Shanley coach Troy Mattern said. “A credit to our defense. It was obviously a defensive football game tonight and we knew that coming in. They’re a very physical team.”
The Deacons (6-0) opened up a 10-0 first-half lead and led 17-7 in the fourth quarter before holding on, stopping a streak of six consecutive losses to St. Mary’s dating back to 2013, including a pair of postseason setbacks.
The Deacons’ defense wouldn’t let the Saints keep that streak going.
“We’ve banked on our defense all year,” Mattern said. “We haven’t given up a lot of points, a lot of yards. Credit to our defensive coaching staff, they did a great job preparing the kids and we got after them and made a lot of big plays.
“Bottom line, in the fourth quarter when we needed stops, they came up with them.”
Shanley came into the game averaging 37.6 points per game. The Deacons rushed for 199 yards and threw for 100 against a stingy St. Mary’s defense.
Kaleb Christmann rushed for 102 yards on nine carries, including a 60-yard TD run that gave Shanley a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Deacons struck first, taking a 10-0 lead.
Matthew Motschenbacher booted a 27-yard field goal to cap a nine-play drive that stalled at the Saints’ 12-yard line.
The Saints picked up one first down before punting, and Shanley gambled with just over five minutes left in the first half, converting a fourth-and-2 at their own 37. On the next play, Christmann broke free for a 60-yard touchdown and a two-score lead with 4:06 remaining in the half.
St. Mary’s cut the lead to 10-7 just 1:42 before the intermission.
Cole Gendreau connected on a 44-yard pass to Hudson Bradley to the Deacons' 16. After a Joey Heinert 7-yard run, Gendreau connected with Jonah Krebs, who reached the Shanley 1, before losing control of the football. Mason Spies recovered the ball in the end zone for a St. Mary’s touchdown.
Both teams were down a key player in the second half as Jake Kava was hurt early in the third quarter for Shanley, and Gendreau missed the second half with an injury.
”We were up 10-0. We had chances and a couple of fluke plays when they scored that first touchdown. We lost Kava and the air went out of our sails,” Mattern said. “Credit to our kids in the second half, they were in the locker room and honestly, they were just sick of being on the short end of the stick in this rivalry and they said it’s our turn and they stepped up in the second half.”
Busek – who completed 7 of 17 passes for 100 yards – capped a 15-play, 83-yard drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak for a 17-7 lead with 6:22 left in the game.
“We’re used to making big plays,” Mattern said. “We left a few big plays on the field that we’ve got to make but the bottom line is, you win the game. The old saying is sometimes an ugly win is better than a good loss, and I think tonight that was true. It’s just fun beating the No. 1 team in the state.”
St. Mary’s (5-1) was limited to 64 yards rushing. Gendreau completed 7 of 8 passes for 108 yards in the first half. Drew Dosch completed 7 of 13 passes for 58 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the second half. Kambeitz caught four passes for 88 yards.
“We turned the ball over a little too much early – I think we had three fumbles in the first half. Too many penalties. But a lot of that is caused by Shanley – they’re a good team,” Smrekar said.
Dosch connected with Kambeitz on a 43-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 remaining, pulling St. Mary’s within 17-14, but couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick. After Shanley punted with 30 seconds left, Motschenbacher intercepted a Dosch pass to seal the win.
“I suspect there’s a very good chance we could run into them again,” Smrekar said. “Hopefully both teams are healthy and we get that chance.”