State 9-Man football: Wolverines declawed in Grand fashion
MARSHALL —- Having won 41 of its last 47 games, Grand Meadow High School once again displayed its 9-Man football prowess, unleashing a swarming, sure-tackling defense —- along with a big-play offense —- as the Superlarks defeated previously undefeated Mountain Lake Area 35-18 Saturday afternoon in the state tournament quarterfinals at Mattke Field on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.
After an evenly-played first half, the Section 1 champion Superlarks twice capitalized on superior field position in the third quarter and added an impressive tackle-breaking 66-yard touchdown burst early in the fourth, which changed a slim 13-12 edge into a commanding 32-18 lead.
MLA, the champions of Section 3, rallied earlier in the game with three impressive touchdown drives —- effectively moving the ball through the air —- but the senior-dominated Wolverines were unable to ever get a lead in the hard-hitting contest.
“Give Grand Meadow and Coach Gary Sloan tons of credit,” summed up MLA head coach Tim Kirk. “They are a class act and there’s reasons why they have such an outstanding program year after year.”
The Superlarks, who graduated 10 seniors off of last year’s state runner-up squad, were supposedly rebuilding this year. But, the 2013 squad takes a sparkling 11-1 record into Friday’s semifinals at the Metrodome. Grand Meadow will tangle with undefeated Kittson County Central (12-0), the Section 8 champions, at 9 a.m.
The Bearcats of KCC defeated Section 6 champion Ada-Borup, 38-14, at Bemidji State University Saturday in another state quarterfinal clash.
The Wolverines —- who defeated 2011 state champion Edgerton/Ellsworth twice this season, including a hard-fought 20-12 home field win in the Section 3 semifinals (Oct. 26), and then earned an overtime victory (30-24) over defending state champion Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley in the sectional championship game at Mattke Field (Nov. 1) —- finish an amazingly-successful season with an 11-1 record, having scored 70 or more points in five of their wins.
“These kids have worked hard and played some great football for us,” exclaimed Kirk. “It was their dream to play in the ‘Dome’ and they certainly did all the work that it takes. But Grand Meadow’s switching defensive schemes and the linebacker play of Number 5 (Landon Jacobson) were big factors in how things went.”
Jacobson, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, was all over the field for the Superlarks —- making numerous tackles —- from his linebacker position.
“He’s a great football player,” praised Kirk about Jacobson, who also rushed for 194 yards on 32 carries to lead Grand Meadow’s offense. “He is an outstanding linebacker —- at a whole different level than what we usually see.”
Rodney scores two
as MLA trails, 13-12
Each team scored twice in a very competitive first half, as an extra-point kick by Grand Meadow’s Wyatt Richardson was the difference in a 13-12 edge for the Larks.
Grand Meadow scored on its possession when senior quarterback Trenton Bleifus, a three-year starter, connected with Blake Olson on a 12-yard touchdown pass, capping a 10-play, 51-yard drive.
Richardson’s kick gave the Larks a 7-0 edge seven minutes into the game.
After an exchange of punts, the Wolverines put together an impressive six-play drive, covering 62 yards. A 14-yard run by quarterback Carter Kirk and a pair of 18-yard pass plays from Kirk to Andrew Hempeck (six catches for 98 yards) effectively moved the chains and positioned MLA at Grand Meadow’s 12-yard line.
On the first play of the second quarter, Wolverine senior running back Demar Rodney found a seam and cruised 12 yards for MLA’s first touchdown.
Bleifus intercepted a pass in the end zone, stopping the Wolverines’ two-point conversion attempt.
Both defenses forced another exchange of punts, but each team scored another touchdown in the closing two minutes of the half.
Bleifus (five-of-10 for 106 yards) connected with a wide-open Michael Stejskai for a 35-yard score on a well-executed bootleg fake with 1:42 left.
MLA responded with a terrific “two-minute drill” type of drive, marching 65 yards on six plays, capped by another Rodney touchdown —- this one covering 26 yards on a well-executed screen pass from Kirk.
“Demar stepped up for us with several strong runs,” declared Coach Kirk. “Our linemen got out and blocked downfield perfectly. The kids did a great job of executing that play.”
Rodney (five catches for 41 yards, nine rushes for 34 yards) crossed the goal line with just seven seconds remaining in the second quarter. But again the Larks’ defense stuffed MLA’s two-point try and GM owned a one-point lead at intermission.
Larks capitalize twice on
short fields in third-quarter
The momentum really swung Grand Meadow’s way in the third quarter when the Larks twice capitalized on superior field position and opened up a 25-12 lead.
A punt by Olson pinned the Wolverines at their own four-yard line and after the Wolverines were forced to punt from the back of their own end zone, Jacobson ripped off a 22-yard punt return, putting the ball right back at the four-yard stripe.
Two plays later, Bleifus spun in for GM’s third touchdown, increasing his team’s advantage to 19-12 with 8:34 to play in the third period.
The Larks stopped MLA on a fourth-and-five near midfield on the Wolverines’ next series and completed a 20-yard pass before Jacobson rushed three straight times, including a nine-yard touchdown burst at the 4:50 mark.
“That was a big change in the momentum,” noted Tim Kirk about the two third-quarter Grand Meadow scores. “But we came back with a nice drive and scored, giving ourselves a chance.”
The Wolverines, in fact, came up with a defensive stop and then marched 73 yards on seven plays to slice the gap to seven points.
A 12-yard rush by Hempeck and a 17-yard gain by Kirk (15 carries for 63 yards) moved the ball past midfield and then Kirk (17-of-29 passing for 218 yards) tossed a short flip pass to Hempeck who streaked 43 yards to the Grand Meadow two-yard line.
Three plays later, Hempeck’s one-yard plunge —- with 10 seconds left in the third quarter —- made the score 25-18.
Jacobson’s 66-yard TD
run shifts momentum
back to Grand Meadow
Grand Meadow quickly answered, as Jacobson —- who had been held in check pretty well in the first half —- took a pitch and on a sweep to the right dazzled football fans with an impressive tackle-breaking 66-yard touchdown run, giving the Larks a 13-point lead.
“That was an incredible run by a great football player,” noted Coach Kirk. “We missed several chances to tackle him, but he took it all the way and that was a big momentum-changing play.”
Richardson PAT kick increased GM’s advantage to 32-18 with 11:44 to play.
The Wolverines had the ball three more times, but each drive stalled before crossing the Grand Meadow 30-yard line.
A great catch along the right sideline by MLA junior tight end Eric Wenner (three receptions for 59 yards) resulted in a 45-yard gain for the Wolverines, but the Larks eventually took over on downs at their own 41.
A 34-yard pass play —- after a pair of double reverse handoffs —- from Bleifus to Jacobson gave Grand Meadow a first down at MLA’s 21-yard stripe. The Wolverines stiffened on defense, but with 6:18 remaining, Richardson’s 24-yard field goal widened the spread to 17 points.
The Wolverines, who finished the game with 15 first downs and 321 yards of net offense (103 rushing and 218 passing), were not able to sustain a drive on either of their last two possessions.
“It was an emotional locker room when we got home and wrapped things up,” concluded Coach Kirk. “These guys have put a lot into football and had a couple of great seasons. But, now they will ‘change horses’ and get ready for wrestling and basketball. They will be OK.”
The Wolverines, who won Section 2 last year before losing (34-20) to Grand Meadow in the state quarterfinals, have won 27 of 34 games over the past three seasons (7-3, 9-3, 11-1).
Jacobson, after being held to 38 yards on 14 carries in the first half, racked up 156 yards on the ground on 18 rushes after intermission. The Larks generated 16 first downs in the game and had a total of 333 yards of net offense (227 rushing).
While the Larks have just three seniors on their roster, the Wolverines will need to replace 15.
In addition to Kirk, Hempeck and Rodney, MLA will also lose the services of Zach Dickens, Levi Kass, Alex Gerdes, Hunter Quiring, Jose Gonzales, Vince Johnson, Vijar Ness, Levi Blahnik, Zach Fredericksen, Jonathan Narber, Josh Grev and Tylor Duerksen.
G Meadow 7 6 12 10 — 35
MLA 0 12 6 0 — 18