FARGO -- Reed Neubert hasn’t been a target in the Win-E-Mac passing game very often this season. The junior made the most of a rare opportunity Thursday.
Neubert hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass with 6:11 remaining to give Win-E-Mac the lead for good. The Patriots went on to defeat Fertile-Beltrami 30-18 in the championship game of the Minnesota Section 6 9-man high school football playoffs.
Neubert got open behind the secondary, hauled in an over-the-shoulder catch on a pass from Gavin Walker and reached the end zone untouched. It was only the third reception of the season, and the first touchdown, for Neubert, a starting tight end.
“They weren’t expecting a tight end to go out,’’ Neubert said. “Obviously, we don’t throw a lot to the tight ends. I wasn’t expecting the ball. I was scared I was going to drop it. It (the play) felt like it lasted about two hours.’’
The catch and score, followed by Nathan Fortmann’s 2-point conversion, turned an 18-16 deficit into a 24-18 Patriots lead.
“We put that play in this summer,’’ W-E-M coach Aaron Cook said. “We hadn’t run it all year. Gavin made the right read. The pass almost had a little too much on it. Reed made a nice catch.’’
Neubert gave the Patriots the lead. Kobe Hamre may have clinched the win.
On Fertile-Beltrami’s ensuing possession, Hamre intercepted a high screen pass near the sideline and had open field in front of him. He returned it 45 yards for a touchdown -- the Patriots’ fifth interception for a score this season.
“That one gave them all the momentum,’’ Fertile-Beltrami coach Brian Nelson said. “For them to go up 12 at that point in the game was huge.
“The team that made the fewest mistakes won.’’
Walker was the catalyst for the Patriots. The junior rushed for 122 yards and passed for 131 (8-of-13), both game-high totals. Walker threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Bryer Strom in the first quarter and scored on a 2-yard run on the final play of the first half for a 16-6 lead.
“Gavin played really well,’’ Cook said.
Fertile-Beltrami rallied to take the lead on third-quarter touchdown runs of 32 yards by Soren Larson and 14 yards by Micah Tollefson.
“They hit us with a couple of touchdowns in the third quarter,’’ Cook said. “But I have confidence in our defense. We’ve relied on it all year. And they stepped up in the fourth quarter.’’
Balstad was the Falcons’ most productive player, rushing for 75 yards to go with his 20-yard TD reception. Tollefson had 76 yards rushing.
Win-E-Mac advances into the 9-man state quarterfinals with an 11-0 record. Fertile-Beltrami closed with a 9-2 mark, both losses to Win-E-Mac.