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Football: Bombers continue to shock in section play

Cannon Falls' Hunter Johnson scoots past a Plainview-Elgin-Millville defender on the way to a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of Saturday's Section 1AAA semifinal game in Elgin, Minn. The Bombers advanced with a 33-16 victory. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)1 / 2
Cannon Falls' Alex Bultena runs upfield during Saturday's Section 1AAA semifinal game at Plainview-Elgin-Millville. Bultena had five catches for 25 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown in the Bombers' 33-16 victory. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)2 / 2

ELGIN, Minn. – Cannon Falls is still not quite sure where this postseason run has come from.

Just days after upsetting third-ranked and second-seeded Tri-City United in the Section 1AAA opener, the seventh-seeded Bombers played shocker again on Saturday, taking out third-seeded Plainview-Elgin-Millville 33-16 to get back into a section final for the second straight season.

Now, the lowest seed in 1AAA is one game away from a state trip, with top-seeded and top-ranked Rochester Lourdes standing in the way.

“I don’t know, but now that we’ve found it, everything’s clicking,” said Bombers’ quarterback Hunter Johnson. “It feels so good to finally have everything come together. I’m speechless … it’s awesome.”

While the Bombers were competitive in most of their regular-season games, the team struggled to get in the win column on the way to a 2-6 record. But the grind of the Southern Football Alliance Red division got Cannon Falls prepared for the playoffs, and the team is finally reaping the rewards.

“We kept preaching to the boys, ‘Get better, get better, get better. If you keep playing this hard, good things will happen,’” said Bombers’ head coach Josh Hofstedt. “It’s starting to come to fruition now. It’s guys focusing on the right thing and getting better.”

It looked like the underdog would finally slip up early in the first quarter when on their second play from scrimmage, Cannon Falls fumbled and the loose ball was scooped up by P-E-M’s Luke Thedens. But the Bombers’ defense stalled the Bulldogs’ offense, holding the home team to a 26-yard Tanner Hofschulte field goal.

From there, Cannon Falls’ defense stonewalled P-E-M’s offense, holding them scoreless until late in the fourth quarter.

“Our guys were awesome tonight (on defense),” Hofstedt said. “Our front four and our linebackers were incredible.”

Defensive lineman Nathan Melhouse, who had six tackles and two sacks, added, “The D-line was tough out there tonight. …We’ve been working hard in practice, and it’s worth it to win a game like this.”

With the defense doing its job, Johnson and wide receiver Jordan Lundell torched the Bulldogs’ secondary. The senior duo hit pay dirt with a 51-yard touchdown pass up the middle to give Cannon Falls the lead with 4 minutes, 31 seconds left in the first.

It wouldn’t be the last time the Johnson-to-Lundell connection scorched P-E-M as the two connected for a 50-yard bomb with 11:52 left in the game.

“(The secondary) was playing quarter-quarter-half whenever we had trips,” said Lundell, who finished with five catches for 153 yards. “We pretty much split the two guys in the quarters and the seams would be wide open.”

Johnson also proved to be nearly impossible to take down when he took off and ran. Turning sure sacks into monster gains, Johnson was the Bombers’ leading rusher Saturday with 132 yards on the ground. Early in the second quarter, Johnson used his legs to get in a 5-yard touchdown run.

“Sometimes you have to laugh on the sideline because you just don’t know what happened, and that’s just the kind of quarterback he is,” Hofstedt said of Johnson. “The play’s never dead with him, and we tell our linemen to keep blocking because you never know what that bugger is going to do.”

With 3:25 left in the second, Johnson found Alex Bultena on a bootleg pass, and the senior wideout stretched the ball past the pylon to put Cannon Falls up 20-3 at the half.

Taking to the ground again in the second half, Johnson bobbed and weaved his way through P-E-M’s defense, rushing in another touchdown from three yards out with 10:06 left in the third.

“My legs were under me today. I felt pretty good scrambling,” Johnson said. “This was probably one of my better games … actually this was probably the best game I’ve played in my life.”

Early in the fourth, Johnson’s 50-yard bomb to Lundell was just icing on the cake for an offense that put up 33 straight points against the section’s third-seeded team.

Just over three weeks ago, Cannon Falls walked off the field at P-E-M with a 21-20 overtime loss. In Week 6, the rain hampered any chance for a passing game. But on Saturday, the Bombers aired it out and blew the Bulldogs out as a result. Johnson finished 15 of 21 passing for 243 yards and three scores.

“We knew that without the rain this time, we could pass more and make more big plays,” Lundell said. “After last time, we knew we could play with these guys and we knew we could beat them.”

P-E-M’s only touchdowns came via touchdown passes of 20 and 27 yards from quarterback Schuyler Thompson to Derik Laden with less than five minutes left in the contest. Thompson was 10-for-30 passing for 185 yards and three interceptions, with two coming from Lundell and another by Johnson.

Now, in order to reach the state tournament, the Bombers have to go through last year’s state runner up. The Eagles are headed to the section semifinals after disposing of La Crescent on Saturday, 39-7.

After shocking two higher seeds, Cannon Falls believes it has one more upset left.

“I sure hope so,” Hofstedt said. “That’s the plan, now let’s hope we can get it done.”

Lundell added, “I’m ready for one more. I’m ready to keep going.”

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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