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Dragons power past Crusaders, 25-14, to advance to Class A semifinals

MANKATO -- Playing in the state high school football tournament for the third time in school history, the Section 3A champion Adrian Dragons made an impressive showing Saturday afternoon, defeating Section 2A champion Mankato Loyola in the quarterfinals at Blakeslee Stadium on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Grinding out 314 yards rushing on 64 carries, the Dragons moved the chains for 17 first downs and scored four touchdowns, building a 25-7 lead with 3:13 left in the game.

The high-scoring Crusaders were held to just one touchdown during the game's first 47 minutes. Loyola did mount a nice 11-play, 81-yard drive -- mostly through the air -- at game's end, scoring with 57 seconds remaining.

With its 25-14 victory, Adrian (10-2) advances the state semifinals where they will face undefeated Cook County (12-0) at the Metrodome in Minneapolis Friday at 10:15 a.m.

Mankato Loyola, which had scored 38, 56, 47, 36 and 45 points in its last five games, finished an outstanding season with a 10-2 record.

"We had a great bunch of seniors that were top-notch players and exceptional leaders for us," Loyola head coach Dan Rotchadi said. "Adrian has a very fine football team. Their line was quick and they controlled the line of scrimmage, which made the difference in the game. Plus, we thought that both number 73 (Glen Kruger) and number 42 (Tony Thier) played exceptional games on both sides of the ball for them."

Thier, a 165-pound junior tailback/linebacker, rushed the ball 19 times and racked up a team-leading 113 yards -- getting most of his gains on sweeps to the left.

"We thought that we could spring Tony around the edges," Adrian head coach Randy Strand said. "Our linemen did a good of pulling and blocking for him and Glen (Kruger) is a force as a lead blocker."

Kruger a 225-pound senior fullback/linebacker, had 70 yards rushing (on 11 carries) himself, including a pair of touchdowns. He also had a big 39-yard gain down the left sideline -- right in front of the Adrian fans -- to highlight Adrian's game-clinching drive in the fourth quarter.

Kruger, Thier, Zach Reker and Danny Parsley each had 10 tackles to lead the stifling Dragon defense.

An early fumble recovery by Reker and second half pass interceptions by Kruger and Adam Diekmann helped stop potential Crusader drives, giving the ball back to Adrian's ball control offense.

"Except for not getting that onside kick in the last minute of the game, we never had a turnover," noted Strand, who upped his 24-year career coaching record to 170-72 (.703). "We played with lots of intensity and everybody carried out their assignments and contributed to the victory."

Loyola had the football first, but Adrian had the wind and made a couple of defensive sticks on the first two plays that helped set the tone of the contest.

Crusader running back Joe Fink -- who had rushed for 899 yards and 10 touchdowns this season -- was racked up by Thier on the game's first play from scrimmage. Then Dragon senior defensive back Matt Gades stuffed the Loyola option play for a three-yard loss. After an incomplete pass on third-and-13, the Crusaders punted for the first time.

Behind the hard running of Thier the Dragons mounted an eight-play, 37-yard drive to the Loyola 10.

But that opening Adrian drive stalled on downs and the Crusaders took over.

On the first play of its second series, Loyola fumbled the handoff exchange and an alert Zach Reker pounced on the loose football, giving possession back to the Dragons with great field position.

After Thier -- following Kruger -- ran the ball to the one-yard line, the Dragons were penalized for holding, nullifying the play.

But on the next play, Kruger broke a pair of tackles and rushed 19 yards for the game's first touchdown.

Diekmann's extra-point kick gave Adrian a 7-0 lead with 7:06 to play in the first quarter.

Adrian's defense stopped the Crusaders again and field position continued to favor the Dragons, who hitting hard and running with authority.

"That's a reflection of how we have to play week-in and week-out in our conference (Little Sioux)," said Strand. "You have to be ready 'bring it' and play physical."

With the wind at their back in the second quarter, the Crusaders moved the ball better, as quarterback D.J. Wesely (15-of-36, 147 yards) completed several passes, including a nine-yard TD strike to Joe DeGezelle with three minutes left in the first half.

Adam Gaspar's PAT kick tied the score at 7-7.

A missed 53-yard field goal attempt by Gaspar, with 30 seconds left, was the closest either team came to scoring in the remainder of the second quarter.

The Dragons opened the third quarter with the ball -- but were going into the wind.

Pounding the ball on the ground, the Dragons put together a sustained 14-play, 80-yard drive that chewed 6:16 off the clock and was capped by sophomore quarterback Brett Nowotny's one-yard sneak for a touchdown.

The extra-point kick was blocked, but the Dragons had a 13-7 lead with 5:44 to play in the third.

The key play of the drive was a 15-yard pass completion from Nowotny to Diekmann on a fourth-and-six from the Crusader 28.

"That was big," said Strand. "That was a clutch play by both Brett and Adam."

Kruger came up with his interception on Loyola's next drive, returning the ball from the Dragon 30 to the 39.

Adrian then went on an 11-play, 61-yard drive that pushed the lead to 19-7.

Jesse Brake (22 carries, 95 yards) did the bulk of the rushing on that drive, including an 18-yard burst up the middle -- on a well-executed trap play -- for the TD with 1:05 to play in the quarter.

"Jesse saw the holes better in the second half and had some nice gains," praised Strand.

Loyola faced the wind in the last quarter and Adrian's defense held again, giving the Dragon offense another chance.

Highlighted by Kruger's 39-yard gain that included a stiff-arm to break a tackle, the Dragons marched 70 yards on nine plays -- eating up another four minutes off the clock -- to take a 25-7 lead with 3:13 to play in the game.

A 14-yard halfback pass from Diekmann to Tanner Loosbrock -- on a fourth-and-nine from the Loyola 29 -- kept the drive alive. Kruger's two-yard plunge capped the march.

Completing five passes, Loyola moved down the field and scored with 57 seconds left on an 11-yard pass play from Wesely to DeGezelle.

The Crusaders recovered an onside kick, but after a couple of completions, Diekman picked off Wesely's pass in the end zone and the Dragons celebrated a well-earned victory.

Loyola finished with 77 yards rushing on 29 carries.

Loyola 0 7 0 7 -- 14

Adrian 7 0 12 6 -- 25

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