PREP FOOTBALL: Jackson County Central stops Luverne to claim Section 3AA championshipMARSHALL — There have been many great games in the recent rivalry between Luverne and Jackson County Central, but Friday night’s classic in the Section 3AA high school football championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University’s Mattke Field may have been the best yet. JCC’s Darick Vancura rushed the ball 30 times for 263 yards and scored three touchdowns — including a go-ahead 59-yard scoring burst with 3:26 remaining in the fourth quarter — to lead the second-seeded Huskies to a thrilling 35-28 victory over the top-seeded Cardinals.
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
MARSHALL — There have been many great games in the recent rivalry between Luverne and Jackson County Central, but Friday night’s classic in the Section 3AA high school football championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University’s Mattke Field may have been the best yet.
JCC’s Darick Vancura rushed the ball 30 times for 263 yards and scored three touchdowns — including a go-ahead 59-yard scoring burst with 3:26 remaining in the fourth quarter — to lead the second-seeded Huskies to a thrilling 35-28 victory over the top-seeded Cardinals.
The Huskies (9-2) advance to the Class AA state tournament quarterfinals and will take on Section 4 champion Mayer Lutheran next Friday in Chaska, while the Cardinals finish another stellar season with a record of 9-2.
“What a great high school football game that was,” Luverne head coach Todd Oye said. “The lead changed hands about five times, as each team was able to move the ball well and make big plays. We came up a little bit short this time, but give JCC a lot of credit — they have an outstanding squad.”
JCC, which had quarter leads of 14-7, 21-14 (halftime) and 27-22, played the entire second half without star tight end and defensive playmaker Zach Copley due to an injury suffered late in the first half.
But the Huskies rode the powerful running of Vancura, along with some timely plays in the passing game from the combination of Tanner Menke (10-for-17, 131 yards) and Kyle Luhmann (five receptions for 45 yards), to outscore the Cardinals and then hold off a last-gasp effort by Luverne in the closing seconds.
“I’m so proud of our kids for staying with it and overcoming some adversity, as this is a great feeling,” JCC head coach Tom Schuller said. “We have been so close to making it to the state tournament in the last several years, but Luverne has knocked us off just about every time. They have a tremendous football program and it took everything we had to earn this win.”
In a game that had its share of turnovers and penalties on each side, the multiple shifts in momentum — and potential story lines — will be remembered the most.
Luverne struck first when the ever-versatile Brett Heronimus (5-of-10 passing for 28 yards, 14 carries for 68 yards, and a 52-yard touchdown reception) recovered a Huskies’ fumble and rambled 39 yards the other way for a defensive touchdown midway through the opening period.
Omar Martinez booted the extra point to lift the Cardinals to a 7-0 lead at the 6:10 mark.
However, JCC answered immediately when Luhmann returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Vancura scored the two-point conversion to give the Huskies an 8-7 edge with 5:55 showing on the clock.
On JCC’s next possession, Menke fired a 48-yard, play-action pass to Copley (three receptions for 70 yards) down the left sideline — helping set up a one-yard touchdown plunge by Vancura. The two-point attempt was no good, as the Huskies led 14-7 with 3:16 to go.
Luverne later responded with an aerial attack of its own to reach the end zone, with Skyler Wenninger (8-of-15 passing for 190 yards, 13 carries for 122 yards) pulling the strings at quarterback.
Wenninger completed a 33-yard pass to a wide-open Jonny Solma and then hooked up with Heronimus for a 52-yard touchdown over the middle (Martinez PAT good) to tie the score at 14 with 5:07 left in the second quarter.
JCC came right back with a nine-yard touchdown run from Paden Moore and an extra-point kick by Taylor Christopher to take a 21-14 lead at the 4:06 mark. A tackle-breaking 41-yard surge by Vancura preceded that scoring play.
The Huskies threatened again in the final minute, but a great diving interception at the one-yard line by Heronimus kept the score at 21-14 going into halftime.
Luverne controlled field position for most of the third quarter and used another fumble recovery by Heronimus — at the Huskies’ three-yard line — to regain the lead (22-21) with 5:36 on the clock.
Heronimus scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak and also punched in the two-point conversion on an option keeper to the left to swing the momentum toward the Cardinals.
But a big 51-yard scamper on a reverse by Luhmann helped set up a one-yard touchdown blast by Vancura, giving the lead back to the Huskies (27-22, two-point attempt no good) at the 3:12 mark.
Luverne came up with a huge goal-line defensive stand early in the fourth quarter and then launched an impressive 98-yard scoring drive — which was highlighted by a 35-yard halfback pass from Wenninger to Matt Arends, and a 35-yard dash on a quarterback keeper by Wenninger.
Heronimus capped the march with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Josh Slieter on a fourth-and-goal play. The Cardinals’ two-point attempt failed, but Luverne was back in front 28-27 with 4:44 remaining in the game.
JCC, though, threw the final punch. A 17-yard pass from Menke to Luhmann was soon followed by a 59-yard touchdown jaunt — right up the middle and untouched — by Vancura.
The Huskies gave the ball right back to Vancura for a successful two-point conversion, taking a 35-28 lead with 3:26 to play.
Luverne had a pair of possessions in the final moments, but JCC was able to hang on. The Cardinals did complete a long pass down to the Huskies’ eight-yard line as time expired, although a penalty was called on Luverne on the play — sealing JCC’s seven-point win.
JCC finished with 479 yards of offense (348 rushing, 131 passing), while Luverne had 484 total yards (266 rushing, 218 passing).
JCC 14 7 6 8 — 35
Luverne 7 7 8 6 — 28