State Class A football: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton loses to Bethlehem Academy
ROCHESTER — A physical offensive line makes for a consistent running game. Bethlehem Academy rode that, plus a little bit of luck, to the Minnesota state Class A football semifinals.
The Cardinals, winners of Section 1A, shut out Section 3A champion Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 27-0 Saturday afternoon at Rochester Community & Technical College to earn a game in the Minneapolis Metrodome. BA will play Mahnomen, a 28-12 quarterfinal winner over Upsala/Swanville Area, this coming Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton entered their weekend quarterfinal game against Bethlehem Academy with a compromised running game, and its running game became even more compromised early in the first quarter. The Panthers’ top running back, junior Eli Koenig — who had rushed for about 700 yards this season — was unable to play. The Panthers’ top rusher, sophomore quarterback Brett Swenhaugen, re-injured an ankle on the second play of the game.
“He ran for a first down, got hit and kind of got folded back,” said T-M-B co-head coach Derek Flann. “He came back in and wasn’t able to run. He was able to throw. But it was pretty evident after the play that he wasn’t going to be able to run.”
Bethlehem Academy received that message loud and clear.
“That took the running game down to zero. We had to force the ball through the air. They (the Cardinals) were just sitting back on defense and waiting for us to throw,” Flann said.
Bethlehem Academy rolled to a 14-0 halftime lead that became 20-0 with an interception return for a touchdown. Another score in the fourth quarter put an exclamation point on the process.
“They were able to control the line of scrimmage consistently,” Flann admitted on Sunday. “They controlled the ball most of the game. We had seven turnovers. I don’t know the statistics, but I would say they had the ball twice as much as we did.”
The Cardinals didn’t complete a pass, going zero for two for the game. But they ran the ball plenty, getting a couple of big runs around the outside of the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton defense and finishing with more than 300 yards on the ground.
“They were just a little more physical than we were. Nobody had really been able to do that to us since the Minneota game (which resulted in a 41-14 T-M-B loss),” Flann said.
Both teams entered the game with 8-3 records. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton had won three straight, finishing with a 35-14 victory over Section 3’s top seed, Adrian — a team the Panthers lost to 27-13 in the second week of the regular season. Bethlehem Academy — which had allowed just 1.65 points per game its first 11 contests —also entered Saturday’s game on a three-game winning streak, and in the Section 1 final the Cardinals upset their section’s No. 1 seed.
Flann said the Panthers felt optimistic entering the state quarterfinal game. Comparative scores seemed to put the Section 3A champs in a good position because both teams could compare their results against a common opponent. T-M-B defeated United South Central 20-14 on Oct. 26 while Bethlehem Academy lost to USC 24-12 on Oct. 4.
But the only score that really mattered was the one that occurred on Nov. 9.
And nobody can predict injuries.