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Football: Lourdes ends Bombers' dream postseason

Cannon Falls seniors Austin Noble and Jordan Lundell (15) hug after the conclusion of Saturday's Section 1AAA championship game against Rochester Lourdes at KMTelecom Stadium in Kasson. The Bombers' season came to a close in a 29-15 loss. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)1 / 4
Cannon Falls wide receiver Jordan Lundell weaves through the Rochester Lourdes defense during Saturday's section final in Kasson. Lundell finished with 87 yards on seven catches in the 29-15 loss. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)2 / 4
Rochester Lourdes halfback Kane Carstens (30) breaks through the Cannon Falls defense during the second half. After being held to 26 yards rushing in the first half, Carstens ran for 118 yards over the final two quarters to help the Eagles return to state. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)3 / 4
Cannon Falls quarterback Hunter Johnson breaks a tackle from Rochester Lourdes' Zach Hillman during Saturday's Section 1AAA championship game in Kasson. Johnson ran for 51 yards and threw for another 188 yards in the 29-15 loss. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)4 / 4

KASSON, Minn. – After a painful 29-15 loss to Rochester Lourdes in the Section 1AAA championship game, Cannon Falls head coach Josh Hofstedt wouldn’t let his team forget how far they had come.

Three weeks ago, the Bombers seemed like a 1AAA afterthought after going 2-6 in the regular season and getting the last seed in a seven-team section. But Cannon Falls battled like the team they knew they were all along and upset Tri-City United and Plainview-Elgin-Millville on the way to the school’s second straight section final on Saturday.

“The first thing I told them was three weeks ago, you would have never guessed we’d be in this game,” Hofstedt said. “We wanted to go as far as we could and we made some great progress. This is the first time in school history we’ve been in the section championship in back-to-back years.”

And for one half of football against the top-seeded Eagles, the Bombers looked like they could play spoiler one more time.

Cannon Falls took a 7-0 lead with 5 minutes, 56 seconds left in the first quarter when Lourdes quarterback Michael Brandt fumbled and Nate Melhouse recovered the loose ball in the end zone.

The Eagles tied it up later in the first when Brandt fired away on a rare pass from Lourdes, finding James Ustby down the field for a 55-yard touchdown.

After the Eagles tied it, Cannon Falls chewed up over seven minutes of the clock on a 15-play, 64-yard drive before stalling at Lourdes’ 10-yard line. Derek Johnson tried to put the Bombers in the lead with a 27-yard field goal but went wide left.

For the rest of the first half, neither team established a run game as Cannon Falls quarterback Hunter Johnson had minus-1 yard on the ground and the Lourdes halfback-fullback duo of Kane and McKay Carstens were held to 26 and nine yards, respectively.

“Coming out, we knew we had to contain their running backs,” said Bombers lineman Austin Noble. “We were hoping that we could keep that going (in the second half).”

The Eagles caught a break when Zach Hillman took a punt return down to Cannon Falls’ 9-yard line. Two plays later, Lourdes took the lead on 7-yard scamper by Kane Carstens. Hillman ran in the two-point conversion to make it 15-7 with 6:09 left in the third.

The Bombers managed to string together another long drive, getting down to the Eagles’ 21-yard line after going 69 yards on 11 plays. But Cannon Falls’ progress was halted when the team was penalized for holding and illegal chop block on consecutive plays. The drive ended on fourth down at the Eagles’ 43-yard line.

“We had two drives killed by penalties,” Hofstedt said, frustrated by the missed opportunities. “It’s just part of the game, I guess.”

With the passing game being a mere afterthought, Lourdes handed the ball off to the Carstens duo and watched them rumble 57 yards in eight plays, capped off by a 2-yard touchdown by McKay. On the team’s next drive, Kane put the game out of reach on a 50-yard dash to make it 29-7 with 4:27 remaining.

After the slow first half, Kane Carstens finished with 144 rushing yards on 19 carries, and McKay had 84 yards on 22 attempts.

“Those two were tough to tackle,” said defensive back/wide receiver Alex Bultena. “They kept pounding and pounding at us. We held together in the first half, but they broke us (in the second half).”

Noble added, “With their blocking, they take out one of your shoulders and that’s all it takes. They didn’t need a big hole.”

Cannon Falls tacked on its first offensive touchdown late in the game when Johnson connected with Bultena on a 1-yard touchdown pass.

“They kept their focus on Jordan (Lundell) and I was able to get open a lot,” said Bultena, who had a team-high 10 catches for 64 yards. “All the credit has to go to Hunter. He’s a great player and one of the toughest players out there.”

Finishing with 51 rushing yards on 21 carries and 20 of 39 passing for 188 yards, Johnson was able to move the Bombers’ offense, but Lourdes did not allow the shifty signal-caller to make its defense look silly like P-E-M the week before.

“After the last couple playoff games, (Lourdes) could see what Hunter was capable of,” Hofstedt said. “They spied him with two linebackers, which is something you’d usually see against a running back.

“They also double-teamed Jordan all night; they weren’t going to let him beat them. … They had a great defensive scheme tonight.”

While Lourdes returns to state with a quarterfinals matchup with Fairmont looming, the Bombers end the year at 4-7 overall. But it was hard to be truly disappointed when just weeks before, when it was presumed that Cannon Falls would be watching the section final from the stands.

“It’s been great seeing everything we’ve been able to accomplish these last few games,” Bultena said. “We came together at the end … we found each other and it was a great way to end.”

Noble added, “We came out of the regular season hanging our heads, and we had the feeling in our gut that we didn’t want it to end. We were playing with heart and passion, and we just kept playing like that until the end.”

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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