PREP FOOTBALL: JCC cruises by Windom AreaJACKSON — After exchanging touchdowns with Windom in the game’s first six minutes Tuesday night, Jackson County Central utilized its superior offensive line and the hard-running of senior back Darick Vancura to cross the goal line five more times in the first half, opening up an impressive 54-13 halftime lead on the seventh-seeded Eagles in the opening round of the Section 3AA high school football playoffs at storied Swearingen Field.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
JACKSON — After exchanging touchdowns with Windom in the game’s first six minutes Tuesday night, Jackson County Central utilized its superior offensive line and the hard-running of senior back Darick Vancura to cross the goal line five more times in the first half, opening up an impressive 54-13 halftime lead on the seventh-seeded Eagles in the opening round of the Section 3AA high school football playoffs at storied Swearingen Field.
The second-seeded Huskies (7-2) scored two more touchdowns in the second half and posted a 67-13 victory, advancing JCC to Saturday’s semifinals (3 p.m.) and a home-field clash with third-seeded Maple River, also 7-2 and riding a five-game winning streak.
Maple River defeated New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, 33-8, Tuesday evening in Mapleton.
Vancura carried the football 14 times in the game’s first 18 minutes and racked up 145 yards on the ground, including three touchdown runs and four two-point conversion scores.
“There’s a reason Darick is a state champion wrestler,” praised JCC head coach Tom Schuller about his powerful running back. “He’s tough and has great balance — it’s hard to knock him down, so he is able to break lots of tackles.”
The Huskies generated a total of 314 yards rushing on 46 carries and senior quarterback Tanner Menke completed five of six passes — all to senior wide receiver Kyle Luhmann — for 116 yards.
Sophomore running back Paden Moore had eight carries for 53 yards, including a trio of touchdown runs while also bolting across the goal line for a two-pointer.
“Our offensive line was just way better than Windom’s defensive line,” summed up Schuller about the huge holes created for Vancura and Moore. “We did the job up front and blocked the way we needed to, creating some nice holes for our backs.”
Left tackle Matt Schmit, left guard Nolan Hohenstein, center Chris Baker, right guard John Marker and right tackle Mark Thaemlitz are the five starting interior offensive linemen for the Huskies who Schuller was referring to.
Thaemlitz and Marker are seniors, while Schmit, Hohenstein and Baker — a first-year starter — are just juniors.
It was a combination of gaping holes created by the line, the tackle-breaking runs of Vancura and the passing combination of Menke to Luhmann which turned the game’s momentum in JCC’s favor after Windom had scored its second first-quarter touchdown just five minutes and 31 seconds into the contest.
Eagles score first and strike again with 44-yard touchdown pass
Windom (0-9) came out of the gate on fire as Bryce Bever recovered a JCC fumble on the Huskies’ opening kick return.
Eagle senior quarterback Collin Lovell engineered an effective nine-play, 40-yard touchdown march —which included a pair of pass receptions by senior back Michael Rivera (gains of 10 and 16 yards), along with an eight-yard gain on the ground by the elusive Rivera.
All-around Windom senior athlete Brandon Thongvivong capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge and the extra-point kick by Victor Ogeka gave the Eagles a quick 7-0 lead with 8:07 on the first-quarter clock.
The Huskies quickly responded, scoring just 40 seconds later as Vancura’s 19-yard touchdown burst and ensuing two-point run put JCC on top, 8-7.
Thaemlitz, who kicks off for the Huskies, recovered an Eagles’ fumble on the following return and it took JCC just two plays to cover 33 yards and score again.
Menke completed an 18-yard pass to Luhmann and then Vancura bolted 15 yards for his second touchdown.
Moore’s two-point conversion run increased JCC’s lead to 16-7 with 6:49 left in the first quarter.
Windom quickly answered with one of the game’s most exciting plays.
After a nice kick return by Thongvivong and a penalty on the Huskies, Lovell — who completed his first four passes — fired a beautiful 44-yard TD strike to a streaking Jacob Gotto for six more Eagle points.
Schmit stuffed Windom’s two-point conversion run attempt and the Eagles never crossed the goal line again.
Schmit’s punt block helps trigger JCC’s dominant second quarter
JCC junior tackle Ryan Brighton moved into the backfield and capped a six-play, 64-yard scoring with a one-yard plunge for the Huskies’ third touchdown and Vancura’s two-point run made the score 24-13 with 4:27 to play in the first quarter.
Thongvivong had another strong kick return (25 yards) for the Eagles, but Windom was unable to generate a first down and Lovell was injured (ankle) on the last play of the series and did not play the rest of the game.
Schmit blocked Windom’s punt attempt and Austin Bell-Pixler recovered for the Huskies at the Eagle 15-yard stripe.
Three plays later, Moore crossed the goal line on a three-yard TD run and Vancura’ sweep to the left — for the two-point conversion — finally ended the first-quarter scoring (1:46) with JCC holding a 32-13 advantage.
While the two teams split 45 points in an action-packed opening quarter, it was only the Huskies who scored the rest of the night.
Vancura’s tackle-breaking 21-yard touchdown run at the 8:43 mark was followed by his slicing through a huge hole —between Schmit and Hohenstein — for a stand-up two-pointer.
Windom moved the ball some on its next series as backup quarterback Zach Bartosh completed an 11-yard pass to Gotto (three catches for 70 yards).
But JCC’s defense forced another Eagle punt and Luhmann thrilled the home crowd with a 50-yard punt return — right in front of the JCC bleachers — putting the ball at the Windom five-yard line.
Moore powered to the right, running between Marker and Thaemlitz on the next play for his second six-pointer of the night and Taylor Christopher’s PAT kick upped the lead to 47-13.
JCC, however, wasn’t finished yet as Menke delivered a perfect lead pass to Luhmann — who was well-covered by Thongvivong — down the right sideline for a 49-yard touchdown strike with 1:35 left in the first half.
“That was some play,” praised Schuller. “Tanner can throw it a long ways and that was just perfect execution on both the throw and catch.”
Christopher’s kick made the halftime score 54-13.
JCC intercepts three second-half passes
The second half was highlighted by several pass completions by Bartosh (five-of-nine for 73 yards) to Rivera (five catches for 48 yards) and a couple of long runs by Thongvivong (10 carries for 76 yards) as the Eagles moved the chains for frequent first downs.
Bartosh also delivered a 15-yard completion to Gotto and a 24-yard pass to Thongvivong.
But pass interceptions by JCC’s Christopher, Darnell Taylor-Breck, and Daniel Wieres helped stop Windom drives.
Meanwhile, the Huskies were gaining yards behind runs by Zach Holm (seven carries for 46 yards), Kyle Kapplinger, Mitchell Macek and Joseph Brinkman.
Folllowing the pick and return by Taylor-Breck, Moore’s 15-yard touchdown burst and Christopher’s extra-point kick gave the Huskies a 61-13 lead with 6:26 to play in the third quarter.
Wieres intercepted his pass in the end zone and returned the ball 33 yards down JCC’s sideline, setting up the Huskies’ final scoring drive in the fourth quarter —capped by Holm’s two-yard TD run with 49 seconds left.
Playing just nine minutes, Lovell finished four-of-five passing for 69 yards.
Cody Jurgens (18) and Rivera (12) combined for 30 rushing yards to go along with Thongvivong’s 76 as the Eagles gained 110 yards on the ground on 33 carries.
Windom 13 0 0 0 — 13
JCC 32 22 7 6 — 67