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Prep football: Luverne shuts out Worthington

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Luverne Cardinal running back Andrew Verhey (48)finds an open field ahead for his first of two first quarter touchdowns Friday night in Luverne.

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

LUVERNE —Starting the game by successfully recovering an onside kickoff, the host Luverne Cardinals scored two quick touchdowns and crossed the goal line again midway through the second quarter to build a 20-0 halftime lead on the Worthington Trojans Friday evening at Cardinal Field.

Each team’s defense held the other from scoring in the second half and the Cardinals improved to 2-0 for the season with their 20-point victory in the Southwest Conference opener for both squads.

Worthington, which was blanked by Fairmont (26-0) in a non-conference clash to start the season last week, took possession of the football in favorable field position three times after intermission.

But, the Trojans (0-2, 0-1) were unable to score their first touchdown of the campaign.

Worthington, which had just two first downs in the first half —one by penalty and one by pass —moved the chains four times in the second half with several big gains on the ground, moving the ball to Luverne’s eight-yard line in the third quarter after a 15-yard run up the middle by Troy Ektnitphong (nine carries, 44 yards).

“We had several good drives in the second half, but just like last week, we were not able to finish them,” summed up WHS head coach Brad Grimmius. “After giving up the two touchdowns in the first quarter, we clawed back in the game and played good defense and showed signs of improving on offense.”

Cardinals pick up 13 first

downs in first half

After Nolan Sawtelle recovered Omar Martinez’s opening onside kick at midfield, the Cardinals utilized a pair of big plays to drive 50 yards in less than three minutes.

Andrew Verhey rushed for 15 yards on Luverne’s first play, setting the tone for a strong ground game by the hard-running 175-pound junior back.

After Worthington’s defense stuffed the Cardinals for no gain on the next two running plays and an incomplete pass created a fourth down and 10 yards to go for LHS from the Worthington 35-yard line, quarterback Kendall Meyer connected with Josh Slieter on a 23-yard pass play, giving Luverne a first-and-10 at the 12.

Two runs later, Verhey capped the seven-play drive with an eight-yard touchdown burst through the right side of the Cardinals line.

Martinez was good on the conversion kick and with 9:14 showing on the first-quarter clock, LHS had a quick 7-0 lead.

“We wanted to get off to a good start and we were able to do that,” said Cardinals’ head coach Todd Oye about the game’s opening minutes. “We’ve worked a lot in practice on executing the onside kick, which worked for us.

“Our line opened up some nice holes for Andrew, who ran the ball hard the whole first half. We needed to throw the ball on fourth and long. Josh made a great catch to keep the drive going. We wanted to make things happen and create a little early-game excitement.”

The Cardinals held the Trojans to a three-and-out on Worthington’s first series and began their second drive at their own 41 at the 7:24 mark.

Three running plays netted nine yards and Luverne faced a fourth-and-one at midfield.

Following a timeout by Oye, Verhey burst through a seam on the left side — created by offensive linemen D.J. Reker, Jonathan Gacke and Cody Rofshus —and raced 50 yards untouched to the end zone, giving LHS a quick second touchdown.

Martinez was perfect with the kick and with 5:09 on the scoreboard clock, the Cardinals had a 14-0 lead.

“I thought about punting,” admitted Oye. “But, you get a feel from the kids. They wanted to go for it and we executed the play well, blocking it the way it’s designed.”

Ektnitphong’s end zone interception stops Luverne’s third drive

Worthington was again unable to sustain any offensive momentum on its second drive, after picking up its initial first down on an offside penalty against the Cardinals.

Following a 14-yard punt return by Trenton Rops, Luverne began its third drive at its own 44-yard line.

Two strong runs by Verhey (14 rushes, 118 yards) gave the Cardinals a first down at the WHS 45.

Meyer (4-of-7 for 71 yards) connected with Logan Norman (two catches, 43 yards) on a 25-yard pass play and again Luverne was moving the football.

As the first quarter came to a close, the Cardinals were knocking on the door for a third touchdown.

But, on a third-and-goal from the three, Ektnitphong put an end to the drive by intercepting a Meyer pass in the right corner of the end zone.

“That was a great play by Troy, who had a good all-around game for us,” praised Grimmius. “That was a huge momentum changer for us.”

Luverne’s defense, however, held the Trojans in check again and the Cardinals scored their third TD on their next drive.

“Our defense played pretty well all game long,” declared Oye. “After Worthington stopped us, we were able to get a stop ourselves, which was big.”

A five-yard run by Jackson Winter, a seven-yard gain on a sweep left by Slieter, a four-yard burst by Verhey and a spinning 13-yard run by Verhey moved the chains twice and gave LHS a first-and-10 at the Trojans’ 20.

After Winter gained a yard, Norman made a nifty catch on a pass from Meyer for an 18-yard gain to the WHS one-yard line.

Erik Tofteland capped the seven-play, 49-yard drive with a one-yard scoring burst through the left side, giving Luverne a 20-0 lead with 5:55 to play in the first half.

Rest of game is defensive stalemate

From that point on, the contest became a defensive stalemate as neither team was able to score over the game’s final 30 minutes.

”I was proud of how we played after getting down by three touchdowns,” declared Grimmius. “The kids could have folded up, but they didn’t. We played better —both ways —as the game progressed.”

A 25-yard pass completion from Blake Schroeder to Robert Lovan was an offensive highlight of the second quarter for the Trojans and a 47-yard punt return by Jesse Guerra sparked Worthington in the third quarter.

Will Dudley had an eight-yard rush on a sweep to the right — following a fumble recovery by Zach Kempema — prior to Ektnitphong’s 15-yard gain to Luverne’s eight-yard line.

But, Luverne’s defense backed the Trojans up on the next three plays.

Dudley had a 14-yard catch- and-run in the fourth quarter and back-to-back nine-yard runs by Brandon Gray and Lovan highlighted another Trojan drive.

“We had some guys step up in the second half, including Torey Rogers and King Blanchette, among others,” exclaimed Grimmius. “We had a lot of guys play well in the second half.”

Both teams travel north Friday as Luverne plays at Marshall and Worthington is at Redwood Valley.

Luverne 14 6 0 0 — 20

Worthington 0 0 0 0 — 0