CLASS A FOOTBALL: Adrian wins overtime thrillerST. PETER — Brett Nowotny called it the best touchdown of his career.
By: Aaron Hagen, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PETER — Brett Nowotny called it the best touchdown of his career.
It might have been his most meaningful.
The Adrian quarterback plunged in from one yard out in overtime, sending the Dragons to the state semifinals with a thrilling 27-21 victory against St. Bernard’s in the Class A state quarterfinals Saturday.
“I’d say this is my No. 1 (touchdown),” Nowotny said. “I had no rushing touchdowns in the regular season and I needed to make up for them. So I’ve had a couple in the playoffs and this one tops any touchdown I’ve ever had.”
Nowotny scored two rushing touchdowns and threw for another, leading the Dragons past a very athletic Bulldog team.
“They had moves,” Nowotny said. “They didn’t run over you; they could — they had the ability to run over you — but they had the athletic ability to stop one way and go the other. They had very agile running backs.”
Adrian (10-2) will advance to the Metrodome for the second time in three years, and face Fosston in the semifinals. Kickoff is slated for 10:15 a.m.
“Our whole team has wanted to play in the Dome this year,” Adrian running back Brock Bullerman said. “We came into this game 50-50 and we didn’t know what to expect. They played AAA teams all year. We couldn’t really read their talent level, so we just had to come out with whatever we had.”
What Adrian had was a power running game that the Bulldogs had no answer for.
Adrian ran the ball 53 times for 218 yards.
“Brock Bullerman had a heck of a game for us, both offensively and defensively, coming up with some good tackles and running the ball hard,” Adrian head coach Randy Strand said. “Especially when Adam (Diekmann) went down with a little ding on his ankle, in the overtime, Brock did a whale of a job for us.”
Bullerman carried the ball 22 times for 138 yards, while Diekmann added 56 yards rushing.
“We had a lot of good blocks on the line,” Bullerman said. “They just led the whole game. This is probably their best blocking, there were so many holes to find.”
With the game tied at 21 heading into overtime, the Dragons had the ball first.
Starting at the 10, Bullerman ran twice, gaining nine yards.
With a third-and-goal from the 1, the Dragons called a timeout.
“We figured they were going to bring everybody, so we really didn’t want to turn around and handoff and have somebody upset the handoff and have a possible turnover or even lose yards,” Strand said. “At that point, you’re thinking pass or run. We wanted to spread them out a little bit. We thought if we put a guy in fast motion they might shift a little bit and we wanted to keep the ball in Brett’s hands. He gave us that second effort and got in.”
Nowotny ran a quarterback sneak, and appeared to be stopped short of the goal line. But with a strong second effort, the senior rolled into the end zone, giving Adrian the lead.
“I got stopped right on the line and I always remembered that every time I’ve scored on a quarterback sneak, when I get there, I always spin,” Nowotny said. “I spun and got in, luckily. I don’t know how, but I was just happy I got in.”
But then, the Dragons had to play defense.
St. Bernard’s had a false start penalty to start the drive, and after a pair of incomplete passes and a short run, faced a fourth-and-goal from the 12-yard line.
Quarterback Dan Hartman’s pass to the end zone missed the mark, sending Adrian back to the state semifinals for the first time since 2007.
“Going back on defense I was a little leery, but I’m always nervous,” Nowotny said. “But I had confidence in our defense. It had been a defensive battle the entire fourth quarter and most of the third quarter. So I thought our defense would pick it up, and we did. That five-yard penalty didn’t hurt either.”
From the game’s opening kickoff, Adrian set the tone early.
On the second play from scrimmage, Bullerman rumbled for 39 yards on a sweep, giving the Dragons good field position.
“We started the game off with a power to the left and that got no yards, so that made me kind of leery,” Nowotny said. “But when we did the speed sweep, it was awesome.”
Diekmann capped the drive with a four-yard touchdown run, and with his extra point, gave Adrian a 7-0 lead.
However, the Bulldogs would answer right back.
Hartman completed an 11-yard touchdown strike to Logan Ferrozzo, and with the PAT, the game was tied at 7-all.
Adrian punted on its next possession, and the Bulldogs didn’t waste any time.
Behind the arm of Hartman, SB scored on a three-yard pass to Miguel Hernandez, giving the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Adrian found an answer.
On a 12-play drive that covered 83 yards in more than five minutes, Nowotny threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Kilgore, and with the PAT, tied the game at 14-all.
After both teams moved the ball at will in the first half, the defenses played well through most of the third quarter.
The Bulldogs recovered a Bullerman fumble on Adrian’s first drive of the second half, and marched down the field. Julian Hart scored from one yard out, giving SB a 21-14 lead.
After the fumble, Bullerman was waiting for his chance.
“I wanted to pay back the team for what I lost from them,” he said. “You don’t have an excuse for fumbles. It’s my fault and my fumble; you can’t blame it on anyone else.”
On Bullerman’s next carry, the junior ran for 20 yards, and then followed with a 13 yard gain, setting up good field position.
Out of the quarter break, Nowotny ran for a 10-yard touchdown, and with the extra point, the score was knotted at 21-all.
It was then that the Adrian defense turned it up another notch.
Andrew Lonneman, who had been wreaking havoc with his pass rush all day, recovered a fumble, giving the Dragons the ball right back.
“Justin Wolf stripped the ball and made a heck of a play,” Lonneman said. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
Lonneman finished with seven tackles and two sacks on the day.
“I owe a lot to my tackles and other end,” he said. “They created a lot of openings for me and allowed me to get a lot of one on ones.”
SB had the ball in Adrian territory at the end of the regulation, but Diekmann made a nice play to break up a fourth-down pass, sending the game to overtime and eventually, Adrian to the Dome.
“It was a good game. They were athletic; there was no doubt about it,” Strand said. “Their quarterback throws well and they have five or six stud athletes that they use and they use them all over the place. That got them in a little bit of trouble with their formations with their illegal sets and stuff, but they did a great job overcoming their penalties.”
Hartman finished the game 23-for-33 passing for 296 yards.
“This quarterback, for a sophomore, is going to be a great quarterback,” Nowotny said. “He’s going to be good. Look for them coming back with him at quarterback the next two years.”
But on this day, Adrian proved to be the better team.
“We talked, there are only four teams left and we’re one of them,” Strand said. “There are very few seniors in the state of Minnesota that had the opportunity to do what we’ve done and our seniors have earned that. We get the opportunity to get up to the Metrodome now and take our shots there.”
Adrian 7 7 0 7 6 — 27
St. Bern’s 14 0 7 0 0 — 21