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Sousa Soares kicks Luverne into semis

MANKATO -- After missing a pair of field goals earlier in Friday night's Class AA state quarterfinal football game with Triton, Luverne's Sebastian Sousa Soares booted a 28-yarder with two seconds remaining in regulation to lift the Cardinals to a thrilling 10-7 victory over the Cobras at Minnesota State-Mankato's Blakeslee Stadium.

The victory sends the Cardinals (11-1) to the semifinals next Friday at 5:45 at Metrodome. Luverne will play either Moose Lake/Willow River or Pierz, who play tonight in St. Cloud.

"This was a fantastic victory against a very strong Triton team," Luverne head coach Todd Oye said. "We jumped out to an early lead, our defense came up big several times, and Sebastian and the field-goal unit delivered in the clutch."

Friday's back-and-forth classic came down to a pair of fourth-quarter field-goal attempts, as Luverne made its second goal-line stand of the game by blocking a 22-yard kick from Kevin Ramirez before later setting up Sousa Soares for his game-winner.

With the game tied at 7-7 late in the third quarter, Triton's Damon Andrews intecepted a pass from Luverne's Jeremy Hoff at midfield.

Triton (10-2) was then forced to punt after three plays, but the Cobras regained possession by recovering the ball at the 12-yard line when it bounced off one of Luverne's players.

Three rushes by the Cobras moved the ball to the five-yard line, setting up a fourth-and-three situation.

Triton (186 team rushing yards) sent its field-goal unit onto the field, and Luverne senior Kyle Heronimus (13 tackles) exploded through the line and blocked the kick with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter.

Luverne, which rushed for 195 yards, recovered the ball at the three-yard line and then went on a sustained drive to the Cobras' 23-yard line.

Zach Olson's 19-yard surge off right tackle and Hoff's 24-yard quarterback keeper on the left side highlighted the possession, as Luverne reached the 23-yard line on eight plays.

A holding penalty, though, pushed the Cardinals back, and on fourth-and-17 from the 30, Luverne sent Sousa Soares out for a 47-yard field-goal try.

The kick was short and wide to the right, and Triton took over at the 20-yard line with just under four minutes to play.

Luverne's defense then forced a three-and-out, and after a strong punt return by Olson (three carries for 18 yards, 10 tackles), the Cardinals had the ball at Triton's 41-yard line with 2:57 showing on the clock.

Phil Paquette (18 carries for 50 yards) ran twice before Hoff's five-yard run set up a fourth-and-four from the 35.

Luverne took a timeout with 52 seconds left, and Paquette burst through an opening up the middle for a 12-yard gain to pick up the first down.

The Cardinals quickly got three more rushes off, including Hoff's seven-yard scamper on third-and-five, to move to the 11-yard line.

Luverne then called a timeout with six seconds left before Triton called a timeout of its own to try to ice Sousa Soares.

With Heronimus snapping and Hoff holding, Sousa Soares split the uprights from the left hash-mark to give the Cardinals a 10-7 lead with two seconds left.

Sousa Soares then squibbed the ensuing kickoff, and Triton's Caleb Rissman took a pitch-back from Ramirez and found some room down the right sideline.

Luverne, though, chased Rissman out-of-bounds right around midfield to end the game.

"It was such a battle - back-and-forth all night," said Hoff, who ran for 93 yards on eight carries and was 3-of-7 passing for 95 yards. "Our offensive and defensive lines played really well, and we found a way to get it done at the end."

Hoff, who injured his left knee just before halftime, connected with junior wide receiver Zack Clark on the game's third possession to put the Cardinals out in front.

After each team was forced to punt on the game's opening two drives, Luverne took over at its own 12-yard line.

Paquette carried the ball for gains of four and seven yards before Hoff went to the air.

Clark beat his defender down the left sideline and hauled in Hoff's aerial near midfield before sprinting to the end zone to complete a 77-yard scoring play.

Sousa Soares tacked on the PAT, giving Luverne a 7-0 lead with 6:32 to play in the first quarter.

Following a touchback kick from Sousa Soares, Triton answered with a 15-play, 79-yard march to reach the Luverne one-yard line.

Rissman (13 carries for 51 yards) busted off a 23-yard run, and Chace Sackett (10 carries for 51 yards) dashed for a 14-yard run on an option reverse play and a misdirection counter play, respectively, to spark the Cobras.

Later in the drive, with the ball inches away from the end zone on fourth-and-goal, Luverne's Phil Altman (six tackles) tackled quarterback Coleton Thiemann (2-for-8 passing with 30 yards) for a five-yard loss to keep the score the same as the first quarter came to an end.

"We knew that their running backs like to get to the outside, so we had be physical up front," Heronimus said. "We did a great job of holding Rissman and Sackett down for most of the game."

Luverne then went on a 10-play, 82-yard drive through the first six minutes of the second quarter. Hoff ripped off a 48-yard run on an option keeper to fuel the series.

The drive, though, stalled at the Cobras' 12-yard line, and Sousa Soares' 29-yard field goal was no good.

Triton tied the game on the ensuing possession, as Thiemann capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive with a 31-yard touchdown run.

Ramirez made the PAT to tie the score at 7-7 with 51 seconds left in the first half.

The third quarter featured five punts and ended just after Andrews made his interception, setting up the exciting fourth-quarter action.

"Luverne is a good, solid football team," Triton head coach Don Henderson said. "We defended their passing game well after that first big play, but they kept coming at us with good blocking and hard running. It came down to a pair of big plays by the Cardinals on the field goals."

Triton 0 7 0 0 -- 7

Luverne 7 0 0 3 -- 10