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Wolverines cool Chargers, 8-7

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Westbrook-Walnut Grove's Mason Comnick (34) looks to run past the tackle of Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley's Marcus Morrissette (35) and Mitchell Andrews (4) during Friday's Section 3 9-man football championship in Marshall.

MARSHALL -- Allowing Westbrook-Walnut Grove to gain just 49 total offensive yards over the final three quarters Friday afternoon, the top-seeded and undefeated Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley Wolverines claimed an 8-7 victory over the third-seeded Chargers to win the Section 3 9-Man championship in the first of four high school football games at the brand-new Regional Events Center's Mattke Field on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.

C-G-B (11-0) advances to the Class 9-Man state tournament quarterfinals next Friday night, when the Wolverines will take on Section 2 champion Alden-Conger in Marshall at 5 p.m.

"W-WG is by far the best team we have played this year," C-G-B co-head coach Brian Dahl said after the game. "We've scored over 30 points in nine of our games this season, but we ran up against a great defensive team today. The Chargers are a very good team, and we feel fortunate to have beaten them."

W-WG, which finishes with a record of 9-2, put together an 18-play, 66-yard scoring drive on its first offensive possession of the game, chewing more than eight minutes off the clock to take an early 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.

However, the Wolverines stepped up defensively and kept W-WG from moving the ball as well the rest of the game. C-G-B also took advantage of a turnover to score its only points of the game in the second quarter -- which proved to be enough for the victory as the defenses dominated the second half.

"That was a defensive battle," W-WG co-head coach Leo Theisen said. "We didn't think it would end up being a low-scoring game -- especially not an 8-7 final score -- but both teams played great defense."

The Chargers' defense came up big on the game's first possession, as senior Theo Johnson recovered a fumble after C-G-B drove into W-WG territory.

Levi Nelson (21 carries for 113 yards) broke off a pair of 10-yard runs to help the Wolverines move from their own 36-yard line to the Chargers' 34, but Johnson pounced on a fumble to give the ball to W-WG for the first time with 8:33 left in the first quarter.

Eighteen plays and 66 yards later, W-WG senior quarterback Derek Eichner (8-for-18 passing, 48 yards) scored on a one-yard sneak. Junior Steven Pfarr kicked the point-after, and the Chargers had a 7-0 lead with 14.8 seconds left in the opening period.

W-WG converted on four third-down plays and one fourth-down play -- picking up five first downs and the touchdown -- on that impressive drive, as senior Josh Merrick (18 carries for 48 yards) and junior Mason Comnick (10 carries for 18 yards) gained the majority of the yards on the ground.

Comnick's two-yard dive on fourth-and-one from the Chargers' 43-yard line was the first key conversion, while a seven-yard shovel pass from Eichner to Merrick got W-WG its third fresh set of downs on the series -- giving the Chargers a first down at C-G-B's 34-yard line on a third-and-six play.

W-WG, which rushed for 67 yards on 35 carries, moved the chains two more times on third-down plays, with a 10-yard, quick-strike completion over the top (Eichner to senior Jace Jarmer) accounting for the second one -- moving the ball to the 10-yard line.

A two-yard run by Merrick and a seven-yard surge by Comnick spotted the ball at the one, and Eichner's scoring plunge came on the next play.

"That was a nice drive, as we were blocking well and executing our plays the way we wanted to," Theisen said. "Those third-down conversions were big, and then we punched it in to go up 7-0."

W-WG forced the Wolverines to punt on the ensuing possession before a nifty 15-yard catch and run by Jarmer got the Chargers' offense back in gear.

However, Michael Weick picked off a pass along the right sideline to give the ball back to the Wolverines at W-WG's 36-yard line at the eight-minute mark of the second quarter.

Six running plays -- including a 10-yard scamper by Levi Lupkes (12 carries for 46 yards) -- moved the ball to the five-yard line. Zach McNally (2-for-4 passing, 10 yards) then found Colter Combellick in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown with 4:42 left before halftime.

C-G-B, which gained 189 rushing yards on 45 carries, went for the two-point conversion, and Weick hauled in an aerial from McNally to give the Wolverines an 8-7 edge.

"That interception was a key play and gave us good field position for our touchdown," Dahl said. "That was just one of the many big plays our defense made. We played great defense all game-long."

Neither team was able to move the ball much for the rest of the first half and into the third quarter, but W-WG pinned the Wolverines at their own 16-yard line following a 40-yard punt by Eichner.

Johnson then came up with an interception at the C-G-B 40-yard line with 2:32 left in the third quarter, and the Chargers were on the march as the period came to a close.

Eichner completed a nine-yard shovel pass to senior Weston Dibble, and Merrick had a five-yard run to help the Chargers reach the 21-yard line.

On fourth-and-two, Comnick took a handoff up the middle for two yards, but was spotted just short of the first-down marker -- giving the ball back to C-G-B five seconds into the fourth quarter.

Nelson then ripped off a 21-yard run to move the Wolverines into Charger territory, but C-G-B was forced to punt. McNally booted the ball into the end zone for a touchback.

Lupkes came up with a diving interception on W-WG's third play of the ensuing series -- the first of three final possessions for the Chargers in the last 8:29 of the game.

W-WG was backed up deep in its own territory (inside the 25-yard line) on each of those possessions and was unable to pick up a first down, as the Wolverines held on for the one-point victory.

W-WG 7 0 0 0 -- 7

C-G-B 0 8 0 0 -- 8