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Cardinals top Eagles

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

LUVERNE –– Twice capitalizing on great field position with quick touchdown bursts and later scoring on a well-executed sustained drive, the Luverne Cardinals claimed a 28-6 victory over New Ulm in the season-opening high school football game at Cardinal Field Friday night.

Luverne racked up 245 yards rushing on 45 carries and held the Eagles to a mere 111 yards of total offense.

New Ulm gained 69 yards on the ground on 29 rushes and completed just three of 15 passes for 42 yards, as Luverne intercepted four of those throws.

“We made enough plays to win this one,” summed up veteran LHS head coach Todd Oye. “Our offensive and defensive lines did a good job. We missed some assignments –– but give New Ulm’s defense credit, we had some trouble picking up their stunts.”

The Cardinals kept the ball on the ground most of the game, but were unable to sustain any drives until midway through the fourth quarter when sophomore Erik Tofteland capped a 10-play, 32-yard march with a spinning four-yard touchown effort that gave LHS a 15-point lead –– after Omar Martinez was perfect with the third of his four extra-point kicks.

That drive –– which started with a dazzling 23-yard interception return by Kendall Meyer –– put the Cardinals ahead by a 21-6 score with 3:29 to play.

Tofteland, who scored Luverne’s second touchdown on an 18-yard run late in the third quarter and carried the ball 11 times for 64 yards in the second half, ran the ball five times on that clinching drive.

“Erik ran the ball well,” praised Oye. “He gave us a good spark in the second half.”

Luverne’s Connor Hoffman –– who had earlier intercepted a pass at the goal line (12-yard return), returned a punt 24 yards and ran a kickoff back 22 yards –– increased his total yardage to 122 and Luverne’s lead to 27-6 when he broke loose on a 64-yard touchdown scamper on an option-right play with 50 seconds remaining.

“Connor’s a good football player and he made some nice runs for us,” praised Oye. “He’s got some speed.”

Luverne running back Jackson Winter –– one of the area’s premier track sprinters –– showed lots of speed for the Cardinals in the first half, doing the bulk of Luverne’s rushing, including a 24-yard touchdown dash on a well-executed option left, taking the pitch from Meyer.

That run by Winter, who finished with 67 yards on 10 carries, came on the second play after the Cardinals had gained favorable field position on a fumble recovery by Ryan Gonzales –– on New Ulm’s first play, following a deep punt by Winter.

Martinez’s kick made the score 7-0 with 6:19 showing on the first-quarter clock.

The rest of the first half was marred by fumbles, penalties and interceptions as neither team could sustain a drive.

“It was a somewhat of a typical first game,” pointed out Oye. “There were lots of turnovers and penalties and some of our drives ended with an interception.”

Eagles take momentum briefly in the third quarter

In the second half, the game’s momentum began to shift New Ulm’s way.

Starting with a 29-yard pass interception return by Jackson Yackley to the LHS 33-yard line, the Eagles began to move the ball.

With Yackley sweeping to the right and Bryan DeWanz pounding to the left, New Ulm drove to the Luverne 11-yard line before an Eagle penalty –– and a fine defensive stand by the Cardinals — put an end to that drive.

Luverne’s ensuing drive stalled at midfield and then the Eagles –– starting with an amazing 59-yard punt return by Yackley (from the New Ulm 30 to Luverne’s 11) –– appeared to be flying again.

Yackley would have scored on the play, but Luverne’s Trenton Rops –– also a Cardinal track runner –– chased him down with a touchdown-saving tackle.

“That was a great effort by Trenton,” declared Oye. “He came a long ways to catch him and saved a touchdown.”

Two plays later, however, Yackley ran to the right, cut back and crossed the end zone. With 3:39 to play in the third quarter, the score was 7-6.

New Ulm was penalized for unsportsmanships after the touchdown and the Eagles’ long extra-point kick just missed the mark.

“That was a huge momentum swing in our favor,” noted Oye. “Missing that extra point may have took a little of their momentum away.”

More of New Ulm’s momentum was taken away when Rops recovered a muffed punt return attempt by the Eagles and Tofteland quickly scooted in for his first touchdown run.

“He took it the other way on his own,” exclaimed Oye. “The play was going left, but he saw the opening to the right and made a good cut to clear himself.”

Holding a 14-6 lead as the last quarter unfolded, Luverne put the game away with its defense (including Meyer’s interception), the sustained touchdown drive and Hoffman’s long touchdown run.

Andrew Verhey was a workhorse for the Cardinals on the ground, churning out 50 yards on 12 carries. He also caught a pass for 14 yards.

Connor Crabtree (18 yards) and Winter (13 yards) also had catches from Meyer, who directed the Cardinal offense until Hoffman took over late in the game.

“He threw some interceptions,” Oye said of Meyer. “But, for his first start as a varsity quarterback, he did a nice job.”

Jackson Frankenhoff and Logan Norman also had pass interceptions for the Cardinals and Brent Thompson recovered New Ulm’s third fumble of the game.

Thompson also had two tackles for a loss, while Gonzales, Winter and DJ Reker each tackled the Eagles once behind the line of scrimmage.

Veteran senior tackle Cody Rofshus had a stellar all-around game for the Cardinals, topping the tackle chart with five solo tackles and six assists.

After a bye next week, the Cardinals open Southwest Conference action by hosting Worthington Sept. 6.

New Ulm 0 0 6 0 — 6

Luverne 7 0 7 14 — 28