DeKALB – Four Prairie Ridge players stood in a bunch near the 20-yard line. Moments before, Nazareth scored a touchdown to tie the IHSA Class 6A state championship game with 5:03 on the clock.
During the ensuing kickoff, the Wolves were trying to hide their dynamic playmaker, quarterback Samson Evans.
“We thought they were going to pooch kick it because they did that so much throughout the season,” Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said. “If there’s any opportunity we can get the ball in [Evans’] hands, we obviously want that.”
Just before the kickoff, the cluster of Wolves – Evans, Blake Brown, Jackson Willis and Justin Mikolajczewski – split up, and Evans lined up short, near the 25-yard line.
Nazareth did pooch kick it – right to Evans.
He returned the ball 38 yards to the Nazareth 38. The Roadrunners had been trying to keep the ball away from Evans, an Iowa commit, but Prairie Ridge countered with the deceptive kickoff formation.
“That play gave us a lot of confidence on that last drive,” Evans said. “From that point forward, we knew that we could do this.”
It sparked what proved to be the game-winning drive for the Prairie Ridge offense.
“We’ve done it in the past, and we do that from time to time,” Schremp said of the kick return. “Him flipping the field like that was just huge.”
On the ensuing possession, the Wolves did what they do best: They ran the ball.
The Wolves drove 38 yards in nine plays, taking up 3:53 of game time. Evans capped it off with a 4-yard touchdown run, and the Wolves held on for a 28-21 victory, their second consecutive Class 6A state title.
Between a dynamic playmaker like Evans and a methodic triple option offense, the final possession was symbolic of what the Wolves have done so well throughout their 28-game win streak.
Evans carried the ball seven of the nine plays, including a QB sneak on third-and-1. He turned to his cousin, running back Zach Gulbransen, on a first-and-15 situation after a penalty sent the offense backward.
Gulbransen ripped off a 13-yard run.
“Pick up first downs, keep running the clock, don’t give them the chance to get the ball back,” Gulbransen said. “The goal is scoring, and that’s what we did.”
Nazareth was forced to call a timeout to save some of the clock. Then Evans ran twice to get down to the 4-yard line with just over a minute on the clock.
Prairie Ridge’s three-year starting quarterback lined up for a first-and-goal play and surveyed the field.
“We were running plays where they were giving me four options and I just see where the defense was, what they were taking away,” Evans said.
Evans saw defenders lined up on the outside and linebackers looking like they might blitz in the middle. He took the snap and kept the ball himself, plunging into the end zone.
“It was a great feeling,” Evans said. “In the back of my mind, I knew 1:01 left, our team has scored in that amount of time.”
The offense returned to the sideline, where it was forced to watch the final 1:01.
“I was just praying,” Evans said. “I was saying, ‘Please, please.’ I was definitely nervous.”
Defensive back Drew Norton came away with an interception on the game’s final play, and the Wolves rushed onto the field.
“To win state one time is amazing,” Gulbransen said. “To win it twice, there’s no words.”