PREP FOOTBALL: Buccaneers sink Cards
MARSHALL -- A goal-line defensive stand and a 13-play, 99-yard scoring drive on the opening two possessions helped set the tone Friday night, as the top-seeded Blue Earth Area Buccaneers scored in every quarter and rolled to an impressive 28-0 victory over the third-seeded Luverne Cardinals in the Section 3AA high school football championship game at Mattke Field on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.
Blue Earth (10-1) advances to the Class AA state tournament, as the Bucs will take on Section 2 champion Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in the first round next Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
Luverne, which had won the five previous section titles (2006 through 2010), ends a fine season with a record of 7-4.
"Luverne is a really good team and makes you prepare for a lot of things," said Blue Earth head coach Randy Kuechenmeister, who is a 1980 graduate of Luverne High School. "We feel very fortunate to win this game, as they have been the kings of this section for the last several seasons. I'm proud of our football team on a great season and a well-earned section championship."
Friday's win marks the first section title for the Bucs since 2006, when Blue Earth advanced to the Class AAA state tournament. The Bucs were also competing in Section 3AA for the first time in several years this season.
"Blue Earth is a fantastic high school football team with a tremendous ability to run the ball and stop the run effectively," Luverne head coach Todd Oye said. "A team that can run the ball as well as they did and also mix in an efficient passing game behind a big, strong and athletic offensive line is tough to defend. Their defensive performance was also very good, not allowing us to get much going."
The Bucs rushed the ball 49 times for 293 yards, with Jacob Olson (29 carries, 132 yards and three touchdowns) and Carter Hanson (14 carries, 157 yards and a touchdown) spearheading the two-pronged attack.
Meanwhile, Luverne only managed to run for 109 yards on 31 attempts. But the Cardinals did have a prime opportunity to score after Jonny Solma returned the opening kickoff 55 yards along the left sideline, giving Luverne a first-and-10 at Blue Earth's 37-yard line.
Richard Gonzalez (12 carries for 76 yards) had a tackle-breaking 16-yard run to help the Cardinals drive inside the five, but the Cardinals turned the ball over downs following a two-yard reception by Cody Christensen on fourth-and-goal from the three.
The defensive stop gave Blue Earth the ball at its own one, and the Bucs drove the length of the field -- 99 yards on 13 plays -- to get on the board first. The five-minute series featured alternating runs by Olson and Hanson, with Hanson getting loose for a huge 56-yard scamper on the fourth play.
Brady Anderson hooked up with Steven Plocker for a 10-yard gain on fourth-and-six four plays later, and Hanson followed a 13-yard dash with a one-yard touchdown plunge up the middle. Jakob Rintelen booted the extra point, lifting the Bucs to a 7-0 lead with 3:07 remaining in the first quarter.
"We got off to a good start with the great kick return, but Blue Earth stopped us at the one," Oye said. "They followed that up with an impressive 99-yard scoring drive, which is certainly not easy to do. That's a credit to how good they really are."
Both teams punted on their next two possessions, and Blue Earth forced a third straight punt by Luverne. The Bucs started their fourth offensive series at their own 18 and assembled a 12-play, 82-yard scoring drive to double their lead.
Anderson (4-for-12, 63 yards) completed three passes on the march, including one apiece to Plocker (16 yards), David Franta (29 yards) and Isaac Darrington (eight yards). Olson helped cap another five-minute drive with a 14-yard burst and a one-yard touchdown dive.
Rintelen tacked on the PAT, as the Bucs were up 14-0 with 30 seconds left in the first half.
"We are primarily a straight-ahead running team, as that's been our strength all year," Kuechenmeister said. "Our offensive line can move people and stay with their blocks, and we have two very good running backs who both run the ball hard. But we can also pass when we need to, and that's what happened on our second scoring drive."
Luverne started the second half with a pair of key defensive plays, as Christensen and Matt Arends each intercepted a pass to help tilt the field in the Cardinals' favor. Alex Weis also had a punt that his teammates downed inside the five, as Luverne again pinned Blue Earth at its own one.
The Cardinals, though, were unable to put together a serious scoring threat. Hayden Bauman had a five-yard run, and Devin Heitkamp had an eight-yard reception, but Luverne turned the ball over on downs after its second series of the third quarter.
Blue Earth (8-for-14 on third-down efficiency) responded with a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Hanson broke free for a 54-yard rumble up the middle, and Olson scooted in for a seven-yard touchdown run (Rintelen PAT) to increase the Bucs' lead to 21-0 at the 2:27 mark of the third quarter.
Olson completed the game's scoring with his third touchdown -- a tackle-busting 37-yard surge along the left sideline -- with 11:13 showing on the fourth-quarter clock. Rintelen added his fourth kick through the uprights to make it 28-0.
Blue Earth continued to shut down Luverne's offense and then kept the ball for the final 9:57 of the game, running 16 straight times and picking up four of their 19 first downs to seal the shutout victory.
Luverne had just six first downs in the game, and quarterbacks Brett Heronimus and Skyler Wenninger combined to complete 5 of 13 passes for 24 yards.
"I'm proud of our effort, as we showed great improvement throughout the year," Oye said. "We started the second half with some nice momentum on the two interceptions, but we came up short against a strong team. We want to wish Blue Earth the best of luck at the state tournament."
Luverne 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Blue Earth 7 7 7 7 -- 28