ARLINGTON - One minute, Sibley East junior Erik Danielson felt the pain of coughing up a fumble that cost his team the lead against Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in Friday night's Section 2AA football championship game.
By the end of the night, he had more than made up for his error.
Danielson rushed for two touchdowns - including a 68-yard score that gave his team the lead for good - to propel the Wolverines to a 21-15 victory and a berth in the Class AA state football tournament.
"I can't explain the feeling - you have to win it to know the feeling," Danielson said. "It's a great feeling."
Sibley East began the game on the right foot, scoring on its very first possession.
Wolverines quarterback Brody Rodning hit Brandon Ashton for a 17-yard connection on the first play of the game. From there, the combined rushing efforts of Ashton, Aaron Bates and Shayne Danielson set the team up with first-and-goal at the Buccaneers' seven.
WEM held the Wolverines at bay to set up fourth-and-goal from the one, but Shayne Danielson snuck just over the goal line for a touchdown with 7:32 remaining in the first quarter. Julius Asmussen's extra point kick gave the home side a 7-0 lead.
The remainder of the first half was ruled by each team's defense until the Wolverines made their way down the field with a 14-play drive to set up first-and-10 at WEM's 20 with 59 seconds remaining in the half, at which point they seemed poised to add to their lead entering halftime.
However, two plays later Erik Danielson fumbled the ball on a rush to the left-hand side. Buccaneers senior Nicholas Kaplan scooped up the loose ball and ran 76 yards, where he was finally tripped up four yards short of a touchdown.
WEM had only 20 seconds in which to score, but Brady Ayers found the end zone on the very next play on a four-yard run to cut the lead to 7-6. A two-point conversion pass from Buccaneers quarterback Ben Boran to Porter Sheehy to the left side of the end zone gave the visitors an 8-7 lead at the half.
"To be down at the half and to battle through that adversity - we told them at half time, 'You give a team like that five yards to score, they're going to score,' and that they really hadn't earned anything yet and we had to go out and win the second half," Sibley East head coach Chuck Hartman said. "And we did - we battled through adversity, that's how we did it."
The Bucs continued to hold the momentum early in the second half.
Boran capped a 14-play WEM drive to open the half with a two-yard run into the end zone with 5:59 remaining in the quarter. Derek Masberg's extra point kick increased the Buccaneers' lead to 15-7.
From that point on, the Wolverines dug down deep and took control of the contest.
Sibley East responded with a touchdown on its next drive, marching 63 yards on 10 plays. The drive ended with a five-yard touchdown run by Erik Danielson with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter, but the two-point conversion pass by Rodning was thrown too deep, leaving the Buccaneers with a 15-13 lead.
The Wolverines held WEM to a three-and-out on its next possession, receiving the ball back with three seconds left in the third quarter. On the very next play, Erik Danielson gave the home side the lead for good when he ran untouched for a 68-yard touchdown run.
"No-one touched me," Danielson said. "Aaron Bates had one heck of a block. The O-line was phenomenal, Ashton had a great fake... We have a great offensive line this season, I give all the credit to them. I can't do anything without them big boys."
Bates ran in the two-point conversion to make the score 21-15, but Sibley East had to withstand another full quarter before the players were able to celebrate.
The Bucs sustained an 18-play, eight-minute drive to begin the fourth quarter, but Ayers was stuffed on a fourth-and-two try at the Wolverines' 11 yard line to give Sibley East the ball back with 3:55 on the clock.
The Wolverines earned three first downs in the next drive - including a pair of conversions on fourth-and-one tries - to wind down the clock and seal the victory.
"You've got to believe, you've got to play hard, you've got to believe every snap and you've got to believe every play," Hartman said. "That's what we've been doing all year - it wasn't like we had to do anything different. We were down against [Tri-City United], we were down against Watertown-Mayer, we were down against Norwood-Young America, in all those games in similar situations in the second half. We did that, we came back and did that. I'm proud of the kids."
When WEM was receiving the runners up trophy, the players on both teams raised their hands with two fingers raised in a salute in honor of Brady Hruska, a senior for the Bucs (No. 2 on the roster) who tragically died in a boating accident last Saturday.
Sibley East (9-1) will play Section 1AA champion Caledonia 7 p.m. Friday at Burnsville High School in a state tournament quarterfinal match-up.
"We've just got to prepare like any other game," Erik Danielson said. "Like I was talking to the boys - we've only lost to one team this year, and that was ourselves. Mayer-Lutheran didn't beat us, we beat ourselves. We've been through the fire, and we all know that the strongest metal is forged in the hottest fire, and we've definitely been forged into the strongest metal out there."