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Dragons roast Rabbits, 19-7, to win Section 3A title

WABASSO -- Even on a cold night, Adrian head coach Randy Strand didn't mind the shower.

"I guess if it means we're winning, I'll keep taking them," Strand said of getting the water cooler dumped on him following the game. "But I'd just as soon go home dry."

For the first time since 1998, the Adrian Dragon football team will return to the state tournament following a 19-7 victory over Wabasso Friday night.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Tony Thier said. "The team played just great. I can't believe it. It was an amazing game all the way through."

Not only did Adrian earn the right to represent Section 3A at state, but the Dragons did so by defeating a team that was previously undefeated, ranked No. 1 in the state, and playing at home.

"It was a great Wabasso team, and they are 10-0 for a reason," Glen Kruger said. "We just went out there and played our hearts out."

For Adrian (9-2), it was one play that made the difference.

Leading 12-7 with eight minutes left in the game, the Adrian defense made the stand of the season.

Starting on their own 45, Wabasso's Christopher Eichten completed three consecutive passes to move the Rabbits into Dragon territory.

After a 1-yard gain on first-and-goal from the five, Eichten dropped back to pass. The Adrian defense had a strong rush and stripped the ball from the Wabasso senior. Adrian's Tanner Loosbrock recovered the ball and returned it to the 27-yard line, ending what could have been a game-winning score.

"The one on the goal line was maybe the turnover of the decade for us," assistant coach Kevin Nowotny said. "They were on the 4-yard line and they are going in, and we switched our defense to a man-to-man and blitzed the two outside linebackers. We got in there and caused a turnover, and that basically won the game for us."

While the Adrian defense did its part to thwart the Rabbit offensive, it was time for the Dragon offense to seal the game.

Behind the running of Kruger (52 yards on 16 carries) and Jesse Brake (100 yards on 20 carries), Adrian marched down the field. Eating crucial game time, the Dragon offense went 73 yards in five and a half minutes. Kruger capped the drive with a one-yard dive as Adrian secured a 19-7 lead.

"It was that last drive that capped it off," Brett Nowotny said. "We gave it to Cub (Glen Kruger) 10 times, and he did it for us. No. 73, he did it for us."

Thier intercepted a pass on the ensuing drive to seal the Dragon victory.

"We got beat up physically by a good Adrian team," Wabasso head coach Joe Kemp said. "They had a good defensive game plan, and we just missed too many opportunities and dropped passes. Playing football at this level, you can't miss those opportunities."

On both sides of the ball, Adrian focused on playing physical.

"I thought that was key; it was hard-fought. I thought our kids came out and threw their bodies around," Strand said. "We've been in some hard battles this year. We had some kids beat up because of a tough conference schedule, and tonight we were able to come in and do things that we like to do."

During the conference schedule, the Dragon defense had difficulties stopping teams that relied on the pass. However, against the potent passing attack of the Rabbits, Adrian was able to hold Eichten to just 98 yards passing on 13-of-30.

"One big key was getting Glen Kruger back and putting him in the middle," Kevin Nowotny said. "We basically told him that he had to stop the run. If he couldn't stop the run for us, we were going to be in trouble because we were devoting two extra guys out for the pass. We knew we had to shut down No. 9 (Michael Ricketts), and we were worried about Eichten scrambling."

Ricketts was held to just 16 yards receiving, while Wabasso had just 45 yards on the ground.

While Adrian put the last points on the board, it also put the first points up as well.

Receiving the ball to start the first quarter, the Dragon offense went to work right away.

After three short runs, Brett Nowotny (3-of-9, 68 yards) found Danny Parsley (two receptions, 48 yards) up the middle for a 49-yard gain -- putting Adrian in Wabasso territory.

With a false start penalty moving Adrian back to the 13, it took four more plays for the Dragons to find paydirt. Kruger capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge as Adrian took a 6-0 lead four minutes into the game.

"I thought Brett and Danny hit a big combination right away, and that was a good way to get some momentum going," Strand said. "Then we clicked off some first downs and got in the end zone."

Neither offense could find the end zone as the quarter ended with a 6-point Adrian advantage.

With Adrian punting on the second play of the second quarter, the Rabbit offense went to work.

Even after a false start penalty plagued Wabasso to start the drive, two passes from Eichten quickly made up the lost ground.

Facing a third and seven later in the drive, a Wabasso incomplete pass appeared to have stalled the drive. However, a pass interference call kept the drive alive and gave the Rabbits the ball at the Adrian 35.

From there, Eichten completed four more passes on the drive, including a 15-yard pass to Ricketts to move inside the Dragon 10-yard line.

Eichten found Holden Salfer from five yards out to even the score at 6-all.

A successful PAT by Joel Grave gave Wabasso a 7-6 advantage with five minutes left in the first half.

With Adrian's offense stalling on the ensuing drive, the Rabbits were able to get the ball back. However, with a three-and-out, Wabasso was forced to punt.

Adrian's Jesse Brake was back to receive, and looked to be in trouble as the ball skipped past. Picking up the ball on the Adrian 13, Brake found some room up the left side, and with key blocks, was able to return the ball to the Wabasso 38.

On the second play of the drive, Adrian ran a reverse to Adam Diekmann -- netting 23 yards -- and putting Adrian on the Wabasso 15.

"I don't think we tackled very well, and Adrian took advantage," Kemp said. "If you make mistakes when there are 16 teams left in the state, you're going to pay."

After two running plays, Brett Nowotny hooked up with Parsley again, this time from seven yards out for another score, as Adrian found the end zone for the second time. With a failed 2-point conversion attempt, the Dragons held a 12-7 advantage with just 38 seconds left before half.

Adrian will face Mankato Loyola, who defeated Le Center 45-17, at 1 p.m. Saturday at Minnesota State University in Mankato, but not before enjoying the victory first.

"I can't even explain it, I'm so happy," Brett Nowotny said. "This is the best feeling in the world."

Adrian 6 6 0 7 -- 19

Wabasso 0 7 0 0 -- 7