NORTH SIOUX CITY — As he ran to the sidelines following a crucial touchdown run, Eric Johnson took off his helmet and let out a loud yell.
And for good reason.
He had just helped his team capture a signature victory.
Johnson, a senior running back, scored three touchdowns to help the Class 11A Panthers defeat Class 11AA Yankton 46-34 on Friday night in North Sioux City.
In what was the first-ever meeting between the two programs, Dakota Valley (1-1) was understandably fired up following its performance against the Bucks (1-1).
“They’re really good,” Johnson said. “Those AA teams are all really good.
“This feels great.”
After its 19-point lead was cut to 39-34, Dakota Valley faced a 4th & 1 play at its own 44-yard line with 3:09 remaining. Johnson got the ball and ran for four years to keep the chains moving.
Two plays later, he broke through the Yankton defense on third down for a 42-yard touchdown run with 2:07 remaining.
That play sealed the win for the Panthers.
“The whole time, we knew they were a good team, but we just had to do our job,” Johnson said.
Dakota Valley certainly did that, but it also benefited from some Yankton mistakes — the Bucks fumbled a kickoff, saw Dakota Valley recover an onside kick and Yankton later had a second kickoff return for a touchdown called back because of a penalty.
The Panthers used 19 straight points and a pair of touchdowns in the final minute of the second quarter to build a 32-20 halftime lead.
Johnson credited the play of his teammates up front on the offensive line for paving the way for his and his team’s success on the ground.
“They were really physical,” Johnson said. “They made me look good.”
The teams traded touchdowns on their opening drives of the game, and the Bucks made it 2-for-2 with a Brodey Peterson 16-yard scoring run at the 11:02 mark of the second quarter.
Dakota Valley answered with a touchdown run, but the Bucks fumbled the ensuing kickoff to give the Panthers great field position.
The home team then capitalized, with a Johnson 2-yard touchdown run at the 6:17 mark to push the Panthers ahead 20-13.
Yankton junior Trevor Fitzgerald ran the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown and the game was then tied. The teams then traded punts, but Dakota Valley finished the half strong.
Nathan Favors hit Johnson for a 29-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left and following the recovery an onside kick, the Panthers got a 14-yard touchdown pass from Favors to June.
To start the third quarter, Yankton had a Fitzgerald touchdown on the opening kickoff called back because of a penalty, and the Bucks were forced to punt.
Dakota Valley then scored on a Zion Robinson 1-yard touchdown run at the 6:28 mark to build a 39-20 lead.
Yankton, to its credit, fought back.
Owen Warren scored on a 2-yard run at the 2:39 mark of the third quarter, and quarterback Cooper Cornemann later scored on a 15-yard scamper with 4:53 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Bucks were within 39-34 at that point, but Dakota Valley then answered with the Johnson game-clinching touchdown.
All credit, the Panthers said, goes to the offensive line.
“The line, they stepped up big time,” said Robinson, a senior who scored a pair of touchdowns. “I felt like I was walking into the end zone.”
How big was the victory for Dakota Valley?
“It’s a big win because we lost a close one last week,” Robinson said, “and we bounced back.”
The Bucks will look to bounce back next Friday when they travel to top-ranked Pierre.
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YANKTON (1-1) 7 13 7 7 — 34
DAKOTA VALLEY (1-1) 7 25 7 7 — 46
DV — Kobey June, 10-yard pass from Nathan Favors (Evan Foster) kick; 8:16
YHS — Cameron Zahrbock, 25-yard pass from Cooper Cornemann (Trevor Paulson kick); 5:29
YHS — Brodey Peterson, 16-yard run (kick blocked); 11:02
DV — Zion Robinson, 3-yard run (conversion failed); 7:29
DV — Eric Johnson, 2-yard run (Foster kick); 6:17
YHS — Trevor Fitzgerald, kickoff return (Paulson kick); 6:03
DV — Johnson, 29-yard pass from Favors (conversion failed); 0:57
DV — June, 14-yard pass from Favors (kick no good); 0:26
DV — Robinson, 1-yard run (Foster kick); 6:28
YHS — Owen Warren, 2-yard run (Paulson kick); 2:39
YHS — Cornemann, 15-yard run (Paulson kick); 4:53
DV — Johnson, 42-yard run (Foster kick); 2:07