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Chinook delivers knockout blow to Vikings’ season

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CHARLO — It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

Everything was falling in place just like the Charlo Vikings had planned. In their final polish practice Friday for their quarterfinal game against the Chinook Sugarbeeters, the Vikings had practiced being down by 12 points and coming back to win with less than two minutes to play. 

They took care of the first step of their plan, when hobbled quarterback Chico Stipe found Tra Ludeman in the end zone for an 8-yard strike and then converted the 2-point play to pull within 28-24 with 1:26 left to play.

In practice they recovered the onside kick, but even when the Sugarbeeters pounced on the loose ball Saturday the Vikings still believed they were going to win. After each timeout after the Vikings stopped Chinook, Charlo coach Mike Krahn saw the belief in each of his players’ eyes as he went to the huddle. The Vikings’ defiance in the face of defeat was contagious, making the fans that spilled out of the bleachers and lined the chain-link fence believe too, that somehow they were going to pull it out.

The Vikings’ and their fans’ conviction only grew stronger after forcing Chinook to go three-and-out for the first time in the game and punt the ball for only the second time. And when they got the ball back at their own 14-yard line with 1:06 to play and no timeouts, there was little doubt in their minds that they were going to drive 66 yards for the winning score and advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2001. But it wasn’t to be, and Stipe’s pass on a fourth-and-5 was a little behind Jacen Petersen and bounced off his hands and onto the ground, sealing the 28-24 loss and stopping them three steps short of their goal of being state champions. It was the first time in the game – a game where they never led and trailed 22-8 in the third quarter – that doubt crept in the Vikings’ minds. 

For a brief second after the game-ending incompletion, the Vikings’ will was broken and a couple of seniors fell to their knees on the windswept field in disbelief before Krahn yelled to them to stand up and hold their heads high. Like they had been doing all game when faced with adversity, and all season for that matter, they picked themselves up and played the next play. And when the final whistle blew on the Vikings’ 9-1 season and they walked to their locker room under the steel gray sky, they had nothing to be ashamed of and everything in the world to be proud of.

“I’m awful proud of these kids. As a football coach, of course you want to win, but there’s a bigger picture. To see what these kids went through and see how they responded to adversity is bigger than football; it's something they are going to be able to use the rest of their lives,” Krahn said. “I was like a proud parent after the game. I was upset about the loss, but not their effort. I know how hard they worked and how bad they wanted it.” 

The fact that the Vikings were around at the end of the game is a testament to their mindset and toughness. They had plenty of chances to lie down and give in. Most team’s resolve would have wavered after giving up 358 yards on the ground, most of which came on the play they knew was coming, but still couldn’t stop. Most teams couldn’t stay so resolute after letting a team go five-for-six on fourth down chances to keep scoring drives alive, while watching two drives of their own die deep in their opponents’ territory on fourth-down plays. And most players would find an excuse not to go in to play against the bigger team, after being injured, but not the Vikings.

“There were a few times where the kids would have been justified not to go back in because they were injured or cramping up, but they kept playing. They kept playing. They kept trading punches to the very end and you can’t ask for more than that,” Krahn said.

Stipe, the Vikings’ senior leader, was one of these players. The quarterback played the game with a brace after injuring himself last week in Charlo’s 58-50 victory over White Sulphur Springs. Stipe hurt his knee against Chinook, but refused to lay on the ground and wait for the trainers, instead he crawled to the sideline. Krahn said when he saw Stipe crawled to the sideline he knew he would be back in the game and his actions exemplified the Vikings’ “never give up attitude.”

Stipe's calf started cramping up in the fourth quarter and he had to miss some plays, none bigger than a fourth-and-1 at the Sugarbeeters 12-yard line with 9:59 to play and the Vikings trailing 28-16. With Ludeman, a sophomore, taking his place at QB they gave the ball back to Chinook at the 8, when Ludeman’s pass was picked off.

The Vikings got the ball back at the Sugarbeeters’ 38-yard line, when they recovered their third fumble of the day. The Vikings drove down to the Chinook 22-yard line, but came away empty again after failing to convert a fourth-and-2 with only 4:57 left to play.

“When you’re talking playoff football and the two teams are evenly matched, that’s really big. You’ve got to score when you get down there,” Krahn said.

Chinook got off to a quick start, scoring on the first possession of the game on 54-yard run by Tyler Molyneaux. The 200-pound senior also scored on a 45-yard run with 27 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 28-16, but for the most part, Molyneaux nickeled-and-dimed the Vikings to death, running behind his big line on a sweep. Molyneaux finished with 338 yards on 51 carries.

Besides a few big plays by Stipe, for the second week in a row the Vikings had a tough time running the ball. The Vikings finished with a 141 yards on the ground, with Stipe accounting for 139 yards. Most of Stipe’s yards came on a 62-yard score to make it 22-16 at 7:28 in the third quarter.

In the Vikings’ shootout win over the Hornets last week, their air attack was able to open up the ground game, but Saturday with the wind picking up steadily the Vikings passing game was just a little off. Ludeman and Stipe combined for 128 yards on 14-for-25 passing. Stipe went 12-for-25 with two touchdowns. He connected with Petersen for a 32-yard score to make it 8-8 with less than a minute to play in the opening quarter.

The Vikings entered the final frame trailing 28-16, but Krahn believed they had the Sugarbeeters right where they wanted them.

“Even though they were bigger, we were hanging in there and starting to wear them down. They (Chinook) had this look in their eyes like what are they still doing here,” Krahn said. 

Like the rest of his team, Krahn held this belief until the final whistle.
Chinook 8 6 14 0– 28
Chi - Tyler Molyneaux 54 run (Molyneaux run)
Cha - Jacen Petersen 21 pass from Chico Stipe (Kolten Andrews pass from Stipe)
Chi - Molyneaux 3 run (run failed)
Chi - Molyneaux 8 run (Ben Stroh run).
Cha - Stipe 62 run (Tra Ludeman pass from Stipe)
Chi - Molyneaux 50 run (run failed)
Cha - Ludeman 8 pass from Stipe (Austin Bauer pass from Stipe)

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