Area Football: Bombs away!
Cannon Falls off to state, Randolph's run ends in section finals
Down goes Goliath.
The Cannon Falls Bombers upset Section 4AAA powerhouse St. Croix Lutheran Academy, winning 27-10 in the Section 4AAA finals Friday night.
St. Croix has won the Section 4AAA championship every year since 2011. On top of that, Cannon Falls came into the game with a sub-.500 record.
“The football we play down in Southeastern Minnesota is so good,” said Cannon Falls head coach Dan Meyers. “There's so many good teams down there, that every week is a tough game for us, but it makes us better. So we tell our guys, ‘it doesn't matter what our record is in the regular season.’ We want to have a good record, but we know going into the playoffs that we're tested by fire in the regular season so we can do damage in the playoffs.”
The record, and long-standing champion Crusaders, stood little chance in the second half with the defensive stops by the Bombers.
One of those defensive stops came on a rare passing play. St. Croix Lutheran quarterback Zach Longueville tossed a pass into single coverage, but Cannon Falls defender Adam Johnson came up with the ball for an interception in the end zone. With the Bombers leading 21-10 midway through the fourth quarter, all signs pointed to them winning. Logan Hofstedt left no doubt after scoring on a long touchdown run.
With 5 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the game, St. Croix had to score on its next drive. However, on the kickoff, Cannon Falls attempted an onside kick and Marcus Banks came up with the ball for Cannon Falls.
The Bombers hit the ground and tried to run the ball, and the clock, out. At least until the Crusaders could stop them. St. Croix Lutheran finally did, stopping the Bombers on a fourth down with 1:44 left in the game.
By that time it was too late. St. Croix Lutheran, a run-heavy team, much like the Bombers, forced deep passes down field to no avail.
The Bombers relied on the run game all night long, but without Mason Duden. Hofstedt, Banks, and others combined to shoulder the load offensively. Equally as good was Bombers defensive lineman Braden Kasa. Kasa recovered a fumble around the 10-yard line for the Bombers in the third quarter after the Crusaders methodically ran the ball into the red zone, taking more than six minutes off the clock.
“He's not a defensive starter,” Meyers said, “he's a guy we normally rotate in at defensive line to give other guys breaks. He was huge, and he's a senior so he knew what was at stake tonight.”
The Crusaders did break off one long run via Isaiah Allen’s touchdown run in the first quarter, which gave St. Croix Lutheran a 7-0 lead. The Bombers answered later in the first half with a touchdown grab by Graham Pearson on fourth-and-11.
The Bombers took a 13-7 lead on a touchdown run by Trenton Matthies with 2:10 left in the first half. From there, the Bombers never looked back, slowly extending its lead and limiting the Crusaders (6-4) to just a field goal with 34 seconds remaining in the first half.
For Cannon Falls it’s a dream that finally became reality.
“It almost feels like a dream cause we've been shooting for this goal for so long and we finally did it,” Meyers said. “I don't think it's really hit me yet how awesome this is.”
Cannon Falls (5-6) next plays Fairmont (9-1) in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament on Saturday. The Cardinals beat Jackson County Central in the Section 3AAA finals, 35-18, on Friday.
USC 42, Randolph 20
Zach Niebuhr rushed for close to 300 yards and scored six touchdowns to lead undefeated United South Central to a 42-20 win over Randolph in the Section 2A final on Friday.
Andrew Wenstrom hit Joey Erickson for a 7-yard touchdown with 6 minutes, 57 seconds left in the first quarter, completing a 73-yard drive to open the game for the Rockets, but the second half was not kind to the depth of Randolph, a team that played a 9-Man schedule before a bump to 11-man football the past two years, and will going forward.
“They definitely had more size and depth, and in the second half we got tired,” said Rockets head coach Mike Schmidt. “We got a lot of fourth-and-shorts, but they just had that extra size. Niebuhr is just a heck of a runner. For us, for the guys coming out (next year), we have to hit the weight room. It's cliché, but it's what we have to do. We have some linemen coming back, and tonight showed us that we can compete with some good football teams. We have to use this to prepare for next year.”
Randolph was in an unfamiliar position, playing for a state bid for the first time since 1979.
“We told 'em, it's pretty incredible that it's been almost 40 years, but we feel we can compete with the best 1A schools. We showed that for a half, but we need to get into the weight room,” Schmidt said.
The loss also ends the career of Wenstrom, Randolph’s senior quarterback who threw for three touchdowns in his final prep game.
“(Wenstrom has) been special for us, even as a freshman as a receiver,” Schmidt said. “And his growth as a quarterback, you can't replace that. We just have to replace him to the best of the abilities to whomever it is that replaces him.”
The Rockets, who finish 7-4, had a tough go of it the last few years. A talented program has had to endure a 9-Man schedule loaded with state powers Spring Grove, Grand Meadow and Houston, and then a Section 1A playoff slate of potential opponents like USC, Goodhue and Blooming Prairie. And that 11-man lineup looms as a regular season next year.
“That's just it. As disappointed as we feel now, hopefully it's a catapult to the program and guys get motivated, and the youth players get motivated,” Schmidt said. “The last two years we've graduated six seniors each year, which in 1A isn't good. So, hopefully this creates excitement in the program and we can grow some numbers.”
The Rebels (10-0) move on to the Class A quarterfinals against either Blooming Prairie (10-0) or Goodhue (9-1), which play Saturday for the Section 1A title.