Lee, Aaseth prepare for one last ride at Badlands Bowl

Alex Eisen/MDN Aggies tight end Hayden Lee breaks a tackle in a 2017 Class A football playoff game against Beulah in Velva.

MILES CITY, Mont. — This is it.

From playing on the same YMCA team in the third grade to battling alongside each other as members of the Velva High School football team, Hayden Lee and Dakotah Aaseth have been through the fire together.

After all the practices, the long bus rides for road games and the electrifying moments in front of their home crowd, the dynamic duo’s time on the field together appeared to have come to an end on Oct. 27, 2018, when the Aggies suffered a 26-16 loss to Bowman County in the quarterfinals of the Class A football playoffs to conclude their senior seasons.

But that changed when the news broke on March 26, 2019.

The Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl, an annual game that pits the top high school football players from North Dakota against Montana’s finest, released its 34-man roster for each state. Lee and Aaseth made the cut.

“It’s a cool opportunity,” Lee said. “I remember playing for the Jets (in third grade) together like it was yesterday, so it’s pretty sweet. We’re just looking forward to getting to go out there and having fun one more time.”

Lee is the only tight end from Class A football to make the roster. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound bulldozer, who is also listed as a defensive linemen, will be catching passes from a number of talented quarterbacks.

Fargo Davies quarterback Jesse Forknell, who is a Minnesota State-Mankato commit, along with Bismarck Century’s Will Madler and Fargo Shanley’s Cade Busek are all on the roster.

For Aaseth, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound force joins a talented offensive lineman core that’s highlighted by Bowman County’s Beau Jeffers and Dickinson Trinity’s Isaac Fridrich – both of whom were selected for the Class A All-State team this past season.

For the two recent Velva graduates, the opportunity to practice and compete with fellow star players while representing their home state is an invaluable experience.

“You come down here and you’re a little scared because you’re playing with the best players in the state,” Aaseth said. “You’re not the best person on the field anymore, but it has just taught me to work hard with what I got.”

Standing in the way of Aaseth and Lee’s smooth ride into the sunset is a Montana team that also boasts its fair share of standouts.

Rob Stanton, head coach of the Class AA state champion Billings West Golden Bears, is the man in charge for the star-studded lineup. Leading the offense is Billings West wide receiver Jesse Owens, who earned a share of the Class AA offensive MVP award this past season.

On the defensive end, Montana is anchored by Helena Capital defensive linemen Alaric Greil. Despite only starting three years on the varsity team, the Montana Tech commit still finished his career with the fifth-most sacks in program history.

North Dakota, who is coached by Shanley’s Troy Mattern, held its first practice this past Sunday. Since then, the stacked group has worked tirelessly to prepare for today’s game in Miles City, Montana.

Montana leads the all-time series 19-6 and has won the past four matchups. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

It’ll be the grand finale to the Velva duo’s epic nine-year journey together. Nerves and emotions are sure to be high, but the two have every intention of going out in style.

“I’m just really looking forward to playing one more time,” Lee said. “We’re just going to do what we do: play football.”

Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.