DES LACS - During Saturday's non-region clash, North Prairie assumed possesson of the football with 52.4 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, trailing Des Lacs-Burlington by seven with 65 yards to cover.
A hook-and-ladder drove the Cougars into enemy territory. Three plays later, they found themselves on the DL-B 25.
With 2.5 seconds remaining, North Prairie quarterback Jalen Pfeifer - already with two touchdown passes at that point - threw up a Hail Mary.
Des Lacs-Burlington senior running back Brett Schaefer had a big day Saturday, rushing for 164 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries in a 20-19 victory over North Prairie.
DL-B sophomore receiver Noah Zietz, right, finished with 79 all-purpose yards, inluding a 25-yard toughdown pass from senior quarterback Layton Erickson.
And North Prairie's prayer was initially answered. Senior running back Sean Soukup - who tallied 207 all-purpose yards - came up with the ball in the end zone with no time on the clock, much to the delight of the traveling fans.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, touchdowns are only worth six points. Going for the win, the Cougars fell short on their resulting two-point attempt, handing the Lakers a dramatic 20-19 victory.
"That's a pretty good team we just beat," DL-B senior running back Brett Schaefer said. "We held them back, but just enough. I think we could have done better; our secondary's young. But we've gotta learn from this."
Soukup's touchdown came moments after Schaefer provided DL-B's third with under a minute to go. Schaefer - an all-region honoree in 2013 - tallied 164 yards on just 11 carries (14.9 yards per carry).
The Lakers (1-0) racked up 298 rushing yards, 74 of which belonged to senior Eric Knutson, another returning all-region selection. Knutson scored DL-B's second touchdown midway through the third quarter to reclaim the lead for the Lakers.
Schaefer and Knutson spearheaded DL-B's offensive attack Saturday, a trend which DL-B coach James Johnson believes will continue.
"They're both very good athletes for us on both sides of the ball," he said. "They're both good running backs, but Brett also plays strong safety for us, and Eric plays linebacker. They're a big part of our defense, too."
Aside from allowing a second-quarter touchdown pass, the Laker defense held the Cougars (1-1) in check for much of the contest.
Yet while the points were difficult to come by for North Prairie early on, Soukup ran wild. The 5-10 senior whose 2013 campaign was shortened by injury racked up 182 rushing yards on 24 carries, more than half of which were gained in the second half.
"He's starting right where he left off last year," said Terry Motl, North Prairie's first-year coach. "Last year he just missed out on 1,000 yards. And right now, he's already at almost 500 total rushing and receiving. We're gonna feed him the ball, but we've got a lot of playmakers and it all starts up front with our offensive line."
The Lakers had more than one opportunity to extend their lead in the second half, the best of which came at the cusp of the fourth quarter.
DL-B forced the Cougars into a turnover on downs deep in their own territory with 10:29 to play. Less than 30 yards from the end zone, the Lakers induced an immediate setback with a false start penalty, their third of the game.
Three plays later, DL-B faced a fourth-and-1 scenario. Johnson elected to go for it, but quarterback Layton Erickson was hauled down at the line of scrimmage by North Prairie lineman Karson Schoening on the ensuing play, cutting the Lakers' drive short.
"There were points in the game where I thought we were one play away from opening things up," Johnson said. "We did things to beat ourselves a little bit, and that was a little disappointing, something that we'll have to improve on throughout the year."
Following Knutson's touchdown run in the third quarter, the Cougars tied it up with on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Pfiefer to senior receiver Casey Julson.
But they couldn't tie it up. Soukup's resulting extra-point attempt sailed wide left, maintaining DL-B's slim lead.
North Prairie had a chance to take a late lead midway through the fourth.
After Julson's touchdown reception, the Cougars recovered an onside kick, giving them possession on DL-B's 34 yard line with 5:36 to play.
The resulting drive stalled at the 9, and Soukup was brought back out to attempt a go-ahead field goal. But his kick was partially blocked as it sailed wide right.
"We're a young team, so I'm very happy with how our kids kept fighting," Motl said. "That's a good football team out there in DL-B. They're gonna win a bunch of games.
"We've got a short turnaround here. Now we've gotta get back to our routine process, and I think that's vital with a young team. We've got good leaders that can help get us there, but we've just gotta keep driving."
DL-B opens its Region 3 schedule Friday with a home tilt against Surrey. North Prairie hosts Midway-Minto on the same night.
Joe Mellenbruch covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.