Grand Forks Central started perfectly against Fargo Shanley.
The underdog Knights had the lead late in the fourth quarter, too.
But Shanley's passing connection of quarterback Cooper Mattern and wide receiver Talon Hoffer sparked a 21-17 come-from-behind win at Cushman Field.
"Our goal all season is to get the ball to our athletes and Talon is a special talent," Shanley coach Troy Mattern said. "We just had to get him into different routes and different spots. Fortunately, Cooper found him and we had some big plays."
Mattern finished with 219 passing yards and Hoffer had nine catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
"He's just a tough matchup and good athlete out there," Central coach Bill Lorenz said. "We knew they were isolating him. That last one, I thought we had good coverage but he went up and made a play and that's what good athletes do."
The game started two hours early in hopes of avoiding expected thunderstorms.
The Deacons, in their first season back in Class AAA after strong years at the Class AA level, didn't lead for the first time until less than six minutes left in the third quarter. On its first offensive series of the second half, the Deacons drove 69 yards for a go-ahead score.
Hoffer, a 6-foot-3 senior who caught a 42-yard pass earlier in the drive, finished the series with a 9-yard catch from Mattern on third down for Hoffer's second score of the game.
Central took a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter when Sam Strandell caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Dillon Kuntz. The score gave the Knights a lead with 4:46 left to play.
"We challenged our kids before the game to fight for 48 minutes and no letting up, and I think they did that," Lorenz said. "We made some plays offensively we didn't make in the first three weeks. Defensively, we gave up some crucial third downs. I was most proud of our overall effort and fight."
But the Deacons, with the help of a facemask call on third down, marched quickly in response to Central's fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown. Shanley scored on a 3-yard run by Aidan DeVine, coming on an option, for the final margin with 1:46 remaining.
The Knights jumped to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter.
"It was our start again," Mattern said. "Our starts have been awful. It doesn't matter who you play in the EDC on the road. If you start slow, you're going to be in for a dogfight. Credit to our kids, new to the EDC again, a win is a win."
Central forced and recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff, but the series stalled with an interception near the goal line.
However, that field position led to a safety thanks to a Maxx Danks sack of Mattern for a 2-0 Central lead.
The Knights extended the lead to 9-0 when it scored on its second drive.
The nine-play drive was capped with a Ty Lorenz 15-yard touchdown pass to Joel Hunter with 5:35 left in the first frame.
The Deacons responded in the first quarter with a Mattern-to-Hoffer 24-yard touchdown pass. But the Knights kept the lead at halftime with the help of a big fourth-down stop.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Central stopped Mattern on a quarterback sneak.
Fargo Shanley 21, GF Central 17
GFC -- Safety
GFC -- Joel Hunter 15 pass from Ty Lorenz (Jackson Macho kick)
FSH -- Talon Hoffer 24 pass from Cooper Mattern (Emmet Kenney kick)
FSH -- Hoffer 9 pass from Mattern (Kenney kick)
GFC -- Sam Strandell 5 pass from Dillon Kuntz (Tyler Herbeck run)
FSH -- Aidan DeVine 3 run (Kenney kick)
PASSING -- FSH: Cooper Mattern 16-31, 219 yards (2 TDs); GFC: Dillon Kuntz 6-13, 105 yards (1 TD), Ty Lorenz 7-12, 100 yards (1 TD), Ben Anderson 0-1, 0 yards
RUSHING -- FSH: Aidan DeVine 9-53 (1 TD), Cooper Mattern 17-35, Carter Kochmann 1-(-6); GFC: Joseph Riskey 3-16, Kuntz 16-14, Tyler Herbeck 8-6, Anthony Rosell 1-4, Ty Lorenz 1-3
RECEIVING -- FSH: Talon Hoffer 9-170 (2 TD), Carter Kochmann 4-22, DeVine 2-21, Quincy SMith 1-6, Henry Collins 0-0, Matt Fetner 0-0; GFC: Sam Strandell 4-77 (1 TD), Caden Dahl 3-72, Joel Hunter 2-36 (1 TD), Ben Anderson 3-14, Joseph Riskey 1-6