Morgan makes magic: Wardner accounts for all five Midgets scores as Dickinson defeats Williston
Seventeen seniors from the Dickinson High School football team stepped onto Fisher Field at the Biesiot Activities Center for the final time in their black and orange uniforms on Friday, Oct. 5.
On a night where Midgets put up their best offensive performance in more than two years, one senior took center stage. Dickinson senior quarterback Morgan Wardner accounted for all five Midgets scores as the home team captured its first win of the season in a 34-28 thriller over Williston on Senior Night.
"It was amazing, it's great," Wardner said. "It's my final home game and we got to give the fans a win, finally. It's just amazing, the perfect way to go out on this field."
On the first play of the game, Wardner took the snap, read the defense and sprinted up the middle on the option for a 79-yard touchdown run.
"It was a read-handoff, so when I said 'hut,' there was a massive hole right up the middle," Wardner said. "My line did a great job of great blocking and I just did the easy part of running up the field."
Wardner added a 10-yard touchdown pass, connecting with junior wide receiver Alex Praus on a beautifully-executed fade route later in the first quarter. Lurking in the middle of the field on the defensive side of the ball with the Dickinson ahead 14-7 late in the first half, Wardner stepped in front a pass up the seam from Coyotes junior quarterback Charles Whitlock and returned it 29 yards for his third score.
Despite an interception from Midgets senior Brendan Johnson on the ensuing Williston drive, the Coyotes would enter the first half with momentum on their side. With the road team exhausting all of its timeouts, Dickinson chose to run the clock out in the waning moments of the second quarter. However, senior running back Martin Lopez fumbled, resulting in a 51-yard fumble return score from junior linebacker Marden Barlow.
Williston tied the game during its first drive of the second half, capping a 7-play, 59-yard march with an 11-yard touchdown reception from Jericho Burbank, his second scoring haul of the game.
But just as the Coyotes (1-6, 0-4 West Region) were gifted a score, they gave one right back.
After a punt from Dickinson junior Peyton Hanson pinned Williston inside of its own five-yard line, the Coyotes turned it over after bobbling the hand-off exchange. The Midgets took advantage, regaining the lead on a Wardner 1-yard keeper.
"We made too many mistakes," Williston head coach Andrew Mock said. "Our boys just allowed them to come back and capitalize on our mistakes. And when you have that many mistakes during a football game, teams capitalize on them and usually win the game."
Early the fourth quarter, Dickinson (1-6, 1-3 West Region) had a first-and-goal from the Williston 1-yard line. After Lopez was stuffed on first down, a bad snap pushed the Midgets back to the 17-yard line. However, on third down, Wardner scrambled out of the pocket and found senior wide receiver Jaren Berger just inside of the front pylon for the score, giving Dickinson a 34-21 advantage.
Williston did not go down quickly. With under three minutes remaining, Whitlock connected with Dayton Smith on fourth down for a 25-yard pitch and catch touchdown.
The Coyotes recovered the onside kick, putting them in position to steal the win.
On fourth-and-18, Whitlock dumped the ball off short to senior running back Ephraim Yohan. Ten yards short of the stick, Yohan cut back inside, broke a number of tackle and was stopped at the Dickinson 18-yard line for a 42-yard gain.
"We were very resilient," Midgets head coach John Tuchscherer said. "I just got done telling them I honestly believe that this same football team three weeks ago, if that would've happened to them, I think Williston ended up scoring. But we've come so far and our kids our fighters."
Williston climbed inside the Midgets 10-yard line, but a holding penalty and three straight incompletions brought up another fourth down. With the crowd and sideline in a frenzy, Whitlock unleashed a pass into the endzone, but Berger was in perfect position to break up the pass.
"I was just going through my routines and began backpedalling. The ball came my way and ended up knocking it down and making a good play," Berger said. "It felt awesome, the best thing ever."
It is Dickinson's highest point total since a 42-28 victory over Mandan on Sept. 16, 2016. And for those 17 seniors, it was quite to way say good to they home faithful.
"These kids mean the world to me, especially our seniors," Tuchscherer said. "They've been through our program for four years and displayed great leadership and great work ethic. It means the world to see them get a win tonight on Senior Night."
Dickinson 34, Williston 28
W 7 6 8 7 — 28
D 14 7 7 6 — 34
D: Morgan Wardner 79 run (Peyton Hanson kick)
D: Alex Praus catch from Wardner (Hanson kick)
W: Jericho Burbank 40 pass from Charles Whitlock (Abigail Martin kick)
D: Wardner 29 interception return (Hanson kick)
W: Marden Barlow 51 fumble return (Kick blocked)
W: Burbank 11 pass from Whitlock (Jeremiah MacSteves run)
D: Wardner 1 run (Hanson kick)
D: Jaren Berger 17 pass from Wardner (Kick failed)
W: Dayton Smith 25 pass from Whitlock (Martin kick)
Individual statistics were not available
Records: W 1-6, (0-4 West Region). D 1-6 (1-3 West Region)