Picked Off

Viborg-Hurley defensive back Hayden Gilbert (back) leaps up to steal this pass from Parker's Davin Fuller for an interception in Thursday's high school football playoff game at Viborg.

VIBORG — It’s business as usual for the Viborg-Hurley Cougars.

But in a year where going about your business is anything but normal, the Viborg-Hurley Cougars won a 54-6 victory over the Parker Pheasants in a first round playoff matchup with a 2020 feel.

The undefeated Cougars are trying to repeat as the Class 9AA state champions, but had to win tonight’s playoff game with their first or second string quarterback, no easy task. However, the Cougars’ next-man-up mentality helped the backups to enter at a moment’s notice and help Viborg-Hurley continue business as usual, including tonight’s quarterback Carter Gust.

“I think Carter Gust came in and played an outstanding game. I think all the guys put this game on their shoulders and I think they did exceptional,” Cougars Head Coach Rob Kessler said. “We coach these guys to have the next man up mentality. In the second half, we were playing a lot of these younger guys and that’s something that is very important to me, so that they’re ready.”

The Viborg defense, which was dominant all night long, set the tone early by forcing a three and out to start the contest. A fumble by Gust prevented the Cougars from gaining momentum on offense, but the Cougars defense intercepted the pass from Logan Bridges on the very next play.

Angel Johnson ran for the first score of the contest on a sweep, while also scoring the two-point conversion to put Viborg-Hurley up 8-0. The contest would be a defensive battle for the rest of the first quarter, but Gust broke free on the first play of the second quarter for a 26-yard touchdown.

“The run game is completely up to our lineman. We probably have the best lineman all around,” Gust said. “Our line makes the biggest holes ever. If we had any other linemen, I wouldn’t have scored a single touchdown.”

The Pheasants soon marched down the field to the Cougars’ 26, but a rare double-reverse-pass was intercepted by the Cougars and returned to the Pheasants. And then within just a few plays of the interception, Connor Kessler fumbled the ball out of the endzone to give the Pheasants a touchback. Those two plays combined for a rare sequence of football plays rarely seen on the gridiron, but not surprising in a year such as this.

The Cougars stopped another Pheasant’s possession, and another Johnson touchdown run on a 36-yard sweep helped Viborg-Hurley to a 20-0 lead.Gust then extended the lead with a 16-yard touchdown to put the Cougars up 28-0.

The Pheasants then fumbled on the next play, but another rare play, a defensive holding, kept the ball in Parker’s hands. Then a 48-yard pass set up a 7-yard touchdown run for Lane Wiedman and the Pheasants. The Cougars made sure that Parker gained no ground, however, with a six-yard touchdown connection from Gust to Hayden Gilbert.

The Cougars defense, which has held five opponents this season to 10 or less points, held strong through the end of the half, and Viborg-Hurley scored 26 more to seal the first round playoff victory for the Cougars.

Johnson finished with 61 yards and two touchdowns on four carries, while Gust ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns while also throwing for a touchdown. Also in the victory, Conner Kessler ran for two touchdowns while Wiedman finished with the lone Pheasant touchdown in the loss. Parker finishes their season with a 3-6 record.

Now the Cougars will have to prepare for an unfamiliar team, as their opponent next Thursday will be either Rapid City Christian or White River/Jones County, both West River teams. But Coach Kessler knows his team will be prepared to carry on business as usual in their attempted title run.

“All these kids are amazing kids. They’re coachable and they work their tails off. The amount of hours these kids put in preparing for this blows most people’s minds,” Kessler said. “There will be a lot of film work to do. They are a West River team and we will watch a lot of film and have a game plan for them...and we’ll take it one week at a time.”

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