As the St. Michael-Albertville players gathered in the end zone after their heart-stopping 15-14 victory over Spring Lake Park, they began to chant.
"Twenty-one! Twenty-one! Twenty-one!"
That's Mitch Bourgerie's number, and the junior kicker was both awed and humbled as he heard it.
Bourgerie kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Knights a victory that, in the 40 seconds of game time that preceded it, seemed both likely and improbable.
"That felt unbelievable," said Bourgerie, who had missed a 42-yard attempt and an extra point in the first half. "It got the monkey off my back from the first two misses."
Up until Bourgerie's big kick, it appeared that Spring Lake Park (10-1) would escape with the victory. The Panthers led 14-6 at halftime, thanks to a terrific relief performance from backup quarterback Ben Mackedanz. Filling for injured starter Zach Ojile, Mackedanz rushed for 150 yards and scored two touchdowns in the first half. He finished with 169 rushing yards.
But the Panthers' one-dimensional veer offense bogged down in the second half. It generated just one meaningful drive, which stalled at the St. Michael-Albertville 14-yard-line.
Meanwhile, St. Michael-Albertville was moving the ball efficiently on offense, with running backs Eric Sjelin and Mitch Kartes picking up yards in hefty chunks. They pulled to within two points on a 2-yard run by Kartes in the third quarter, but could not finish the drive after that. St. Michael-Albertville's dominance was evident in the Knights' 85-48 advantage in plays from scrimmage.
"We always seemed to have to have a long field to travel," Knights coach Jared Essler said. "We'd move the ball and then we'd have a penalty or a mistake. That wasn't our best game."
St. Michael-Albertville appeared poised to finally take the lead in the game's final minute when near-disaster struck. Kartes, headed for the end zone in the game's final minute, fumbled at the Spring Lake Park 5-yard line. The Panthers recovered at their own 9-yard line with 38 seconds left.
"I felt really bad after that," Kartes said. "I just wanted a chance to get the ball back."
But Spring Lake Park couldn't close out the game. A shanked punt gave St. Michael-Albertville life at the Spring Lake Park 35-yard line with 11 seconds left. A 10-yard pass put the ball into position for Bourgerie's game-winner.
"When it went through, I was like 'Thank you,' " Kartes said. "That saved me and saved us."
Said Essler, "I couldn't be any happier than I am right now."