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Playoff football: Bucs overpower WHS

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Worthington Trojans quarterback Will Dudley (7) evades a Blue Earth Bucs pass rusher during Tuesday night’s section football game in Blue Earth.1 / 2
Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Worthington’s Zach Kempema heads to the sideline and trainer Joel Krekelberg during Tuesday’s football playoff loss to Blue Earth Area.2 / 2

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

BLUE EARTH — Scoring twice in the game’s first six minutes and 30 seconds Tuesday night, the defending Class AAA state champion Blue Earth Area Buccaneers rolled to a 41-7 victory over Worthington in the opening round of Section 3AAA playoff action.

The Bucs (6-3) also scored two quick touchdowns to begin the third quarter, extending a 27-7 halftime advantage. BEA, seeded fourth in the section, advances to play top-seeded Belle Plaine (7-1) in Saturday’s semifinals at 3 p.m. The Tigers, who will host the game, received a first-round bye.

Sixth-seeded Sibley East opened up a 14-0 halftime lead on third-seeded St. Peter and held on for a 21-6 upset victory in the other side of the bracket. The Wolverines (4-5) advance to play at Fairmont Saturday against the second-seeded Cardinals (6-2) who also received an opening-round bye.

Worthington, which was the section’s fifth-seeded team, finishes a roller coaster type of season with a 3-6 overall record, winning all three of its games in the Southwest Conference, going 3-3 in league action.

The Trojans were held to 130 yards of total offense Tuesday, grinding out 122 of them on the ground, while completing just two of 10 passes for eight yards.

BEA displayed a diversified rushing attack throughout the contest, racking up 338 yards rushing on 44 carries. The Bucs completed six of 12 passes for 64 yards without an interception.

“We were expecting a close game,” exclaimed WHS head coach Brad Grimmius. “But, there’s a reason why Blue Earth is the defending state champions. They really came out and played hard and did a lot of things right.”

Solid blocking and tackling were certainly keys to the Bucs’ success, as the BEA offensive line opened up gaps for hard-charging senior backs Gus Phillips (16 carries for 73 yards) and David Franta (five carries for 69 yards).

Junior quarterback Luke Schavey was also effective on the ground, rushing for a game-high 96 yards on just eight carries.

The Bucs got on the board quickly after forcing a three-and-out by the Trojans.

Franta capped a six-play, 58-yard drive with a 26-yard touchdown scamper around the left edge with 7:43 showing on the first-quarter clock. Justin Thelen kicked the first of his five extra-point kicks in six attempts and the hosts had a 7-0 lead.

“We knew that both Phillips and Franta are great athletes and that we had get there, hit them and wrap them up,” said Grimmius. “We were not able to do that often enough.”

It was Franta who kept the momentum in BEA’s favor with a pass interception and 12-yard return on Worthington’s next possession.

Starting at the Trojans’ 44-yard line, the Bucs moved the ball well — but after dropping a pass in the end zone, faced a fourth-and-goal from the 17.

Schavey, who had ripped off a 20-yard run on BEA’s opening drive, connected with Franta on a 17-yard scoring strike with 5:30 remaining in the first quarter, lifting the Bucs to a 13-0 lead.

Worthington countered with its best drive of the early going, highlighted by a 21-yard run by quarterback Will Dudley on a third-and-11 play from the Trojans 29 to midfield.

A 10-yard rush by Troy Ektnitphong followed and Worthington was advancing the ball.

The drive stalled on downs, however, at the BEA 32.

BEA took possession and ran two plays before the first quarter ended.

Guerra’s return, Dudley’s TD highlight late second-quarter action for Trojans

The Bucs took a 20-0 lead at the 6:27 mark of the second quarter on a four-yard touchdown burst by Phillips, with Thelen adding the kick.

After the Trojans were forced to punt for a second time, Worthington came up with a big defensive play at their own 11-yard line, putting a stop to BEA’s fourth drive of the game.

Junior lineman Johnny Murillo, who more than once chased down BEA ball carriers in the open field, stripped the football loose and Marcus Potter recovered for the Trojans.

The momentum change was short-lived, however, as BEA senior defensive nose guard Greg Claeys picked off a Dudley pass and raced 11 yards into the end zone and a 27-0 lead (following Thelen’s kick).

Worthington responded with a dazzling 57-yard kick return — right up the middle -— by senior speedster Jesse Guerra, putting the ball at the Bucs’ 26.

Two plays later, Dudley rambled and weaved his way for a 26-yard touchdown run, putting the Trojans on the board. Will Mulder’s extra-point kick sliced the lead to 27-7 with 2:08 left in the first half.

“Those were two great runs (by Guerra and Dudley),” praised Grimmius. “Will did a nice job of changing direction and getting to the edge.”

The Trojans finished the half with a defensive stop and it appeared that the momentum may be shifting Worthington’s way.

“We sure felt like we had a chance yet at halftime,” Grimmius said. “We were not out of it by any means. We needed to come out after the break, get a defensive stop and get some offensive rhythm going.”

Neither happened.

Bucs take command with two quick third quarter scores

BEA wasted very little time taking command in the third quarter.

Marching 63 yards on six plays, the Bucs stetched their lead to 34-7 with a three-yard TD run by Phillips. The drive took just two minutes and 45 seconds.

Dudley (six carries for 49 net yards) picked up eight yards on Worthington’s next possession, but the Trojans’ drive stalled at their own 40.

The Bucs answered with their sixth touchdown of the night at the 5:41 mark when fullback Justin Ritter — who was a thorn in Worthington’s side much of the game from his linebacker position on defense -— ripped off a 26-yard touchdown run, which completed the game’s scoring.

Guerra (five rushes for 50 yards) had a nice first-down run on the Trojans’ next series, but penalties, incomplete passes and quarterback sacks prevented Worthington from mounting any kind of a comeback.

Junior defensive lineman Trevor Wietzema made a big defensive play with 4:38 to play in the third quarter when he jarred the ball loose and recovered for the Trojans at their own 21-yard line.

But most of the game continued to be played in BEA territory.

Ektnitphong finished with 30 yards rushing on 13 carries, as running up the middle was a difficult challenge.

“The hardest thing about all of this is saying good bye to the seniors,” summed up Grimmius. “We will really miss them. We’ve had great leadership from this group and the camaradarie they have for each other will be something that will last. They have created some memories by playing Trojan football.”

In addition to Dudley, Guerra and Potter, Worthington seniors Blake Schroeder, Zak Abdulrahman, Joey Mills, Cody Ober, Zach Kempema, Zach Heidebrink, Lars Opaczek and Brandon Gray played their final game for the Black and Red.

Worthington 0 7 0 0 — 7

Blue Earth Area 13 14 14 0 — 41