FARGO -- After getting the call for 34 carries, Brandon Miller stood on the Fargodome’s artificial turf shaking his sore hand.
“My legs are pretty beaten up,’’ the Warren-Alvarado-Oslo High School senior said. “But my hand probably hurts more. I got stepped on with some cleats.’’
Miller’s workhorse performance on offense and a stingy defense led the Ponies to a 14-12 win against No. 1 seed North Central in the championship game of the Section 8 9-man high school football playoffs Thursday.
Miller rushed for 183 yards and the game-winning touchdown to offset the balanced running attack of the Stars.
“We spread the ball around,’’ North Central co-coach Steve Geerdes said. “But we couldn’t tackle Miller. We knew coming in that he was quick and strong. There were some plays where we had six of our nine guys with a shot at him. But we couldn’t wrap him up.’’
Miller’s biggest run was his last. With 59 seconds remaining, he went right on a sweep, broke a tackle in the backfield, cut inside and ran 8 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
“There was a good hole,’’ Miller said. “Once I saw there was nobody back deep, I was feeling good about it.
“I usually do carry the ball a lot. But 34 times, that’s on the high end.’’
The touchdown was the first for the Ponies since their opening possession, when Gavin Gullikson scored on a 3-yard run for an 8-6 lead.
Ben Jourdan opened the scoring for the Stars with a 2-yard TD run on their opening possession. North Central regained the lead with 20 seconds left in the third quarter. On fourth-and-10 from the 11-yard line, Anthony Cipriano made a catch in the end zone of a tipped pass from Jack Gilbert for a 12-8 lead.
After Miller put the Ponies ahead, North Central drove all the way to the Ponies’ 7-yard line. On the final play of the game, the Ponies’ Gunnar Jorgensen ended the threat with an interception in the end zone.
“We were gassed at the end,’’ Jorgensen said. “That was probably the biggest play I’ve had.’’
Three Stars backs had more than 10 carries, with Tim Barthel rushing for 96 yards and Jourdan 85 to lead the offense.
“That’s what they do,’’ W-A-O coach Tony Gullikson said.
“Our defense was good. The kids were flying around making plays. They run so many counters and misdirections. We had to be assignment specific. For most of the game, we were.’’
The Ponies take an 8-3 record into next week’s Minnesota 9-man state quarterfinals. North Central finished with a 10-1 record.