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Football: Cougars 'D' reigns supreme vs. Hayfield

Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Kevin Niebuhr (left) races down the sidelines as Hayfield's Andrew Becker tries for the tackle during the second quarter of Friday's Hiawatha Valley League Gold Division game in Zumbrota. Niebuhr gained 42 yards on the play.

ZUMBROTA - Friday's game with Hayfield had all the makings of a trap game for Zumbrota-Mazeppa.

The Vikings were coming off their first win since the 2009 season last week, and the Cougars' offense was struggling with four first-half turnovers.

Hayfield had ample opportunities to put points on the board, but a relentless defense effort by Z-M set the tone for a 34-6 Hiawatha Valley League Gold Division victory for the Cougars.

"Our defense played really well," said Z-M head coach Willie Rauen. "That probably ... that was the best we've played this year, and that's nice to see at this time of year."

After both teams fumbled in their opening drives, the Cougars pulled it together in their second drive to set up the game's first score. Following a facemask penalty on Hayfield, running back Cody Krueger punched in a 1-yard touchdown, his first of three first-half scores.

"We knew it was windy, and we had to establish ourselves defensively and offensively," said Krueger, who ran for 89 yards on 18 carries. "On offense, we had to run the ball, and on defense, we had to stop it."

On the ensuing drive, the Vikings (1-5, 1-4 HVL Gold) were forced into a 4th-and-6, but turned the ball over on downs. On Z-M's first play afterwards, quarterback Kurt Gadient connected with Tyler Quam for a 50-yard reception. Three plays later, Krueger scored from three yards out, helping put the score at 14-0.

The Cougars (4-2, 4-0 HVL Gold) turned the ball over on their next three drives. Despite the turnovers, Z-M's defense kept Hayfield out of the end zone, finishing with four takeaways.

With Kevin Niebuhr and Jacob Ugland rushing hard from the edges, the Cougars' defense held Vikings quarterback Brady Kramer to 4 of 15 passing for 77 yards. Niebuhr, Ugland, and the combination of Andy Siems and Caleb Arendt accounted for three total sacks.

"All week during practice, we practiced on getting to the outside as much as we could," said Niebuhr, who was also the Cougars' leading receiver with six catches for 95 yards. "We saw on tape that Kramer liked to run to the outside."

Kramer scored Hayfield's lone touchdown late in the second quarter on a 1-yard run to cut the deficit to 14-6. But with 36 seconds left in the half, Krueger scored for the third time for the 21-6 lead.

Z-M tacked on two more scores in the second half - a 24-yard touchdown pass from Gadient to Niebuhr, and a 1-yard run from Jacob Tschann - to cement the victory.

"We knew they won their first game in three years last week, so we knew they were going to be pumped to try and beat us on homecoming," said Gadient, who finished 9 of 17 for 162 yards. "We just came to play today."

The Cougars host Triton next Friday.

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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