NEW SALEM -- At game's end, Canaan Fagerland was the muddiest player on the field here Saturday, and for good reason. He had just completed a Herculean task.
Fagerland, a junior running back, carried the ball 48 times for 297 yards and five touchdowns. He added two interceptions to lead Shiloh Christian to a spot in next week's Dakota Bowl. Shiloh held off New Salem-Almont-Glen Ullin 35-30 in the semifinal round of the state nine-man football playoffs.
With the victory, the Skyhawks earned a trip to the Fargodome for the second time in school history. Shiloh will play unbeaten Wyndmere-Lidgerwood for the state championship on Friday at 9:10 a.m.
"It's unreal. It's absolutely unreal. I can't describe the feeling," said an exuberant Fagerland after the game.
As mighty as his offensive exploits were, it was on defense that the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Fagerland sealed the win for Shiloh, now 11-1.
The Skyhawks held a tenuous 35-30 lead when NSAGU took over the ball on its own 17-yard line with 4:59 to play. The Holsteins drove 73 yards to the Shiloh 10 in 12 plays.
On first down, running back Brandon Schroeder tried the middle of the Skyhawk defense, but was thrown for no gain by linebacker Jaden Mitzel.
The Holsteins went for broke on second down, quarterback Evan Henke looking for Braden Zuroff near the right sideline of the end zone. Fagerland jumped in front of Zuroff to filch the pass, and the Skyhawks had the lead and the ball with 52 seconds on the clock.
"I had to get as close to (Zuroff) as I possibly could. I kept with him, looked back for the ball, jumped and came down with it," Fagerland said.
Three carries by Fagerland gave Shiloh a first down and enabled the Skyhawks to eat up the remaining time.
Fagerland said he knew going into the game that he would be getting the ball regularly, but he hadn't envisioned 40-plus carries.
"You work your workhorse at the end of the year, and it was working, so we kept going with it," Fagerland said. "... Coming into the game I knew I was going to be getting the ball."
Although he admitted to being sore, Fagerland said he still had gas in the tank if he had been needed.
"Without a doubt," he emphasized. "Every time I got the ball I was grateful. The line did everything it possibly could have done. They gave me the holes. It was a great team effort."
Shiloh got the first two scores of the game and from that point on the contest turned into a series to tradeoffs. The teams alternated on the final eight touchdowns.
The first touchdown of the game was a field position score. NSAGU was forced to punt from its own 5-yard line. Fagerland returned the ball 17 yards to the Holstein 30, and the Skyhawks were in business.
Eight plays later Shiloh reached the end zone. Fagerland scored standing up from one yard out with 3:20 remaining in the first period. Shea Huntington's kick gave Shiloh a 7-0 lead.
A 45-yard drive stalled at the Shiloh 33 on the Holstein's next possession, and the Skyhawks put together another drive. Fagerland carried 11 times to lead the way as Shiloh made it 13-0 on his three-yard scoring run with 4:22 to play in the first half.
That 67-yard drive actually covered 107 yards as the Skyhawks overcame 30 yards in penalties.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the remaining four minutes of the first half. Henke fired a 30-yard touchdown pass to Garret Soupir. Shiloh immediately responded with a two-play drive. Fagerland dashed 64 yards to the NSAGU one-yard line and scored on the next play.
That made it 19-8, Shiloh, at the break.
A 69-yard run by Zuroff enabled NDAGU to move within a score of Shiloh just 49 seconds into the third period, but Fagerland replied with a three-yard TD run four minutes later.
A blocked punt gave the Holsteins a short field late in the third period, and the resulting five-yard scoring drive consisted of three runs by the Henke, a 6-1, 225-pound junior. That shaved Shiloh's lead to 27-22.
The Holsteins immediately attempted an onside kick, which failed to travel the minimum 10 yards, giving Shiloh possession at the NSAGU 47-yard line.
A 10-play drive -- all runs by Fagerland -- ended in a nine-yard scoring run, and Shiloh was on top 35-22 early in the fourth quarter.
Henke's 49-yard TD pass to a leaping Zuroff and Henke's ensuing converion run enabled NSAGU to close with five points at 35-30 with 8:12 to go, but those proved to be the final points of the game.
Shiloh coach Funnon Barker said his plan was to control the ball with the run. As a result, the Skyhawks threw only six passes.
"Our game plan was to run the football and limit their time of possession. They have so many explosive players," he noted.
Fagerland made that plan work. The Skyhawks ran 62 offensive plays to 51 for NSAGU. The spread was especially pronounced in the first half at 31-20.
"Canaan is a kid who refuses to lose. He wants the ball and he wants the hard assignments," Barker said.
Barker lauded the offensive line play that enabled the Skyhawks to rush for 335 yards on 56 plays.
"We really loaded up the line. We had to grind out first downs," he said.
"We really persevered through some penalties and got the job done," Barker added.
Barker said the two games with NSAGU in the last month have been hard on his blood pressure. The Holsteins handed Shiloh its only loss of the season, 36-34, in the regular season finale.
"They're well-coached. That's one heck of a football team right there -- New Salem," Barker observed. "... We were able to make that one play there at the end and that saved us."