The Harding County Ranchers have some experience in the Dakota Dome. They've been here five times, winning once, in 2012. This was Langford's first trip to a championship game. So one would think Harding County would have an edge in this game. Except Langford didn't get that memo.
It was seen from the opening drive of this championship game, when Langford took their grinding ground game right at the Ranchers' defense. They took 13 plays and half the first quarter to score the game's opening points on a Chance Olson keeper for the 1-yard score. The conversion failed, and Langford held a 6-0 lead with 6:28 left in the first.
Harding County immediately took to the air, but the effort was fruitless, as Langford coverage was tight, and even when there was an open receiver, the pass was often overthrown. A Ranchers' punt gave the Lions the ball at the Harding County 49, and 10 plays later (including a few 3rd and 4th down conversions), Langford was in the end zone again on an Olson 16-yard run. Again the conversion failed, and Langford was now up 12-0.
Langford's running game and defense were far from done. After stopping Harding County on three more plays, the Lions set running back Lincoln Gibbs loose. He made the first defender miss, then speed took over, and 64 yards later was in the end zone, giving Langford an 18-0 lead with 11:33 left in the first half.
The Harding County offense started to show a little life on their next drive. They got a first down but were quickly stopped, and punted again. Langford again escaped 3rd and 10 with a timely pass to Mason Larson for 16 yards, and Gibbs capped the drive a few plays later to give the Lions a 26-0 lead after the 2-point conversion pass from Olson to Jordan Carson succeeded.
Harding County's offense again fizzled fast, and Gibbs busted loose on the first play of Langford's next possession for an 82-yard touchdown, his third of the first half, giving Langford a 32-0 lead with 4:19 left in the second quarter. At the half, Gibbs had 15 carries for 218 yards and three touchdowns, 85 yards shy of the 9-man championship rushing record Wolsey-Wessington's Hunter Johnson set the day before.
Harding County did get on the board with 2:26 before half on a Sam Podzimek pass to Clayton Koch. The conversion failed, and Langford took a 32-6 lead into the halftime break.
Things didn't get much better for the Ranchers in the second half. After taking the second half kickoff and moving the ball to the Langford 7 yard line, the Lions defense held and took over on downs. On the next play, Gibbs set two records: the longest touchdown run in any championship game (93 yards), and rushing yards in a game (breaking Hunter Johnson's record set the previous day of 311 yards). That made the score 38-6 with 7:14 to play.
Harding County found some running space, getting a 74 yard run from Garret Boylan to the Langford 1 yard line. It still took four plays from there to break the Lions' defenses and get into the end zone for the score. The conversion pass made the score 38-14 Langford with 4:46 left in the third.
With 1:57 left in the third, Olson tossed an interception to Trig Olsen, giving Harding County the ball at their own 48. The Ranchers couldn't do anything with the turnover, and Langford had the ball near midfield as the fourth quarter started, Langford again got to the end zone on that drive, ending with Gibbs' 5th rushing touchdown on this record-breaking day, this time from 11 yards away. The kick from Eric Christofferson was good, and Langford led 45-14 with 9:13 to play.
While Harding County still showed a lot of fight and grit, this was Langford's day, winning the class 9B championship by a final of 52-28. Gibbs won the Joe Robbie Most Outstanding Player, with his record-setting day of 26 carries, 350 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns.
SCORE BY QUARTERS 1 2 3 4-FINAL
HARDING COUNTY 0 6 8 14- 28
LANGFORD 12 20 6 14- 52
RUSHING: HARDING COUNTY: Boylan 17-128-1TD; Podzimek 9-49-1TD; Koch 4-21-0; R. Jensen 4-8-0. LANGFORD: L. Gibbs 26-350-5TD; Olson 23-148-3TD; Hanse 1-18-0; H. Gibbs 2-0-0.
PASSING: HARDING COUNTY: Podzimek 14-30-168-2TD-0INT. LANGFORD: Olson 3-7-61-0TD-2INT.
RECEIVING: HARDING COUNTY: Koch 7-101-1TD; J. Jensen 3-45-0; Boylan 3-14-1TD; R. Jensen 1-8-0. LANGFORD: Larson 2-36-0TD; L. Gibbs 1-25-0.