NEW ROCKFORD - Shut down from the right side, Ethan Haley had to make a play.
The junior quarterback from New Rockford-Sheyenne was hoping to sprint right and use a run-pass option to gain yards in the final minute of action on Saturday.
But LaMoure-Litchville-Marion had it cut off, and Haley stopped short and found sophomore Seth Gilliss on a 30-yard post pattern in the end zone with 12.9 seconds remaining to lift the Rockets to a thrilling 30-26 victory in first-round action of the 9-man state playoffs.
New Rockford-Sheyenne's Hunter Wetzel, left, and Ethan Haley, right, take down LaMoure-Litchville-Marion's Brady Thielges in their 9-man first-round playoff game Saturday in New Rockford. Photo courtesy of Chris Aarhus/Jamestown Sun.
"They had the right side of the field shut down," said Haley, who finished 10-of-17 passing for 164 yards and two TDs while running 14 times for 168 yards and another score. "I knew I had a guy dragging across the back side. (Seth) made a play. Hats off to him."
NR-S, ranked second in state and top-seeded out of Region 2, improved to 9-0 and hosts region rival and No. 3 seed Lakota-Adams-Edmore (7-2) on Saturday in a quarterfinal.
"We needed this. Our starters have played seven quarters the last three games," NR-S coach Elliott Belquist said. "We needed a push. I could see it in them."
Gilliss was far from wide open, leaping between defenders to make the catch. Originally, he was going to run a drag, a shorter route designed more for getting a first down.
"An assistant coach told me to run a post at the last second from the sideline," Gilliss said. "I happened to be open."
Belquist said he chose to improvise the final play.
"We don't have that play in our playbook," he said. "It was kind of spur of the moment. I saw (L-L-M) had been shifting the safety over to the side we've been sprinting out on. I was hollering to (Haley) on the field to throw it to Gilliss. Seth went up and made a heck of a play."
In the three minutes prior, the outlook was grim for the Rockets.
L-L-M, fourth-seeded out of Region 1, forced two straight NR-S incompletions that turned the ball over on downs with 3 minutes, 21 seconds to go in the game. To make matters worse, Loboes all-state running back Brady Thielges dragged NR-S defenders past the first-down marker on third-and-7 with the help of solid blocking from quarterback Jared Meiklejohn.
Fortunately for the Rockets, they had all three timeouts and were able to stop L-L-M on the next series and force a punt.
The march started with only 58 seconds to go from 68 yards away.
After running for 9 yards, Haley found senior Chance LaBrie on a 10-yard pass. Haley then hooked up with Gilliss on a 19-yard strike to get deep in NR-S territory. After an incompletion on an out pattern, Haley hit pay-dirt.
"We knew we had a shot. We were gonna take the opportunity and get a win out of this," Haley said. "We just left it all out there."
It was a much-celebrated victory for NR-S, which had lost opening-round road trips to the eventual state champion the past three years. The Rockets amassed 479 yards of total offense, including 303 on the ground. Alex Perleberg added 91 yards and a score on 11 carries.
"Regions 1 and 2 are so equal," Haley said. "No game's a given around here. You've got to earn everything."
It was another frustrating opening-round road loss for L-L-M, which held a fourth-quarter lead against North Border last year but failed to secure the win.
This time, L-L-M led all the way through until the final touchdown with 12 seconds to go. Its biggest lead was 20-8 at halftime.
The Loboes got a strong effort out of Thielges, who ran 32 times for 183 yards and three TDs. However, he was held to 15 yards on 12 carries in the second half, as NR-S switched to a four-man front.
L-L-M, which ended its season at 7-3, finished with 303 total yards.