They played two halves Friday night, but the first half told most of the story.
After building a huge 25-0 lead in the game’s first two quarters and withstanding a Yankton charge in the third, the Arrows punched their ticket to the Class 11AA state title game with a 32-14 win. The victory sets up the top two seeds in the championship, as the No. 2 Arrows will take on No. 1 Pierre on Friday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
“We’ve been talking ‘Dome, Dome, Dome’ all along,” Watertown running back Shay Bratland said. “That’s what we’ve been saying at practice and it’s just really exciting to finally have that chance.”
The workhorse running back led the Arrows with 170 yards on 32 carries and two touchdowns, including a 27-yard scamper with 3:25 remaining to seal the Arrows’ first trip to the championship since 2001.
“Our kids have done a great job,” Watertown coach Steve Svendsen said. “They played a physical game and it’s been everything they’ve been working for in the last year. They did a great job of making plays down the stretch.”
Yankton’s fate was written before halftime, where the Bucks’ five turnovers held back any offense.
“You just can’t have five turnovers in the first half and expect to win,” Yankton coach Arlin Likness said. “You keep the defense out there that long and good teams are going to take advantage.”
Arrows (7-3) fumbled the ball on their third offensive play, leaving good field position for the Bucks at the Watertown 27. But just two plays later, Yankton running back Jordan Lightner lost the ball at the 1-yard line and the Arrows recovered in the end zone for a touchback, shocking the Bucks.
Later in the quarter, Bratland opening the game’s scoring with a 10-yard run. On Yankton’s next possession, quarterback Mason Strahl was sacked deep in his own territory by Joe Foley, who forced the ball loose, allowing defensive lineman Harrison Jones to return it 10 yards for a touchdown. Watertown senior Jess Poppen added a 32 yard field goal with 8:46 left in the second quarter to stretch the Arrow lead to 17-0.
On the next three Bucks possessions, Yankton (5-5) would fumble the ball on a punt, botch a hand off to the running back and throw an interception.
After the first meeting was a 17-7 Yankton win, Watertown unexpectedly held a 25-point lead at the break.
“We knew we could play well with them but I don’t think anyone was expecting 25 points,” Jones said. “We just kept after them and made the plays.”
The Bucks would rally, taking the first possession 75 yards, scoring on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Strahl to Reed Sawatzke. Four minutes later, the Bucks struck again with Strahl finding his favorite target, J.J. Hejna for a 62-yard TD, trimming the Arrows lead to just 11 with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
But Watertown’s defensive line stifled the Bucks’ push to close the margin, sacking Strahl three times on the drive and forcing a punt with 4:39 remaining, setting up the game-sealing score from Bratland.
“We were going to take our chances,” Svendsen said, “and it paid off tonight.”