LAKEVILLE -- Meeting briefly on bended knees at Lakeville South High School moments after their 31-21 victory over Waseca in the quarterfinals of the Minnesota state Class AAA football tournament Saturday, the Jackson County Central Huskies were reminded by Coach Tom Schuller that they were almost “knocked out.”
“That’s that perseverance I’ve been talking about and we’ve been building,” Schuller told them.
After a terrible start in which two JCC turnovers resulted in a 14-0 first quarter Waseca lead, the Huskies outscored their opponents 21-0 in the second quarter and rolled into the state semifinals. The unbeaten Huskies (11-0) will play Pierz -- a 58-16 winner over Perham -- in the semifinals next Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The winner gets a shot at a state championship.
The Section 3 champions mostly dominated Saturday’s game at Lakeville after the first quarter, and in mostly the same fashion as they had throughout the regular season. A remarkably balanced team, the Huskies’ big, powerful line and fast, aggressive linebackers told the story on defense. And the bull-like straight-ahead power running of senior Bradley Buhl Jr., and the heady, shifty play of senior quarterback Rudy Voss wrote the script on offense. A Waseca team accustomed to using its speed to pile points on hapless opponents struggled to move the football consistently against the Huskies, who knew their assignments and stuck to the game plan that worked for them all season.
After falling behind by two touchdowns, one of the team’s defensive leaders said the Huskies reminded themselves of past section championship losses to Fairmont, which JCC defeated 36-12 to set up the game with the Bluejays.
“We just reminisced about what happened the last two years against Fairmont,” said senior lineman Sam Dunker. “We knew what we had to do. We just didn’t give up on any of ourselves. We knew these guys were good and tough up front, and we knew they’ll have a lot of guys playing after high school. We just weren’t gonna give up.”
Schuller -- always cautious -- seemed a little bit surprised that the JCC line performed the way it did.
“I didn’t know we could push those guys around like that. Waseca is so much more talented than any team we’ve played till now,” he said. “I’m really proud of beating a team of this caliber.”
Waseca scored its first touchdown with 5:19 remaining in the first quarter when running back Denver Daniel found the end zone on a 2-yard run. The score was set up after a JCC fumble recovery by the Jays’ Marcus Hansen at the JCC 14-yard line.
Less than two minutes later the Bluejays scored a second touchdown after Voss had a pass intercepted by quarterback-safety Ryan Dufault, who returned it 30 yards to the JCC 10. Dufault scored moments later from seven yards out, breaking tackles all the way to paydirt.
If those scores set the Huskies reeling, they didn’t show it.
On their next possession, JCC moved 72 yards on 11 plays with the 6-0, 215-pound Buhl dragging tacklers into the end zone on a 17-yard carry.
The next time the Huskies got the ball, they moved 77 yards for a touchdown. Voss scored it on a 62-yard run down the left side of the field, barely touched -- one fake, then just speed.
“We figured the defensive end would crash down. I read him and he did, and I pulled it. I was gone,” Voss said.
With the extra point kick by the always-reliable Keaton Storm (who drilled all four of his attempts), the game was deadlocked 14-14.
Jackson County Central finally took the lead with 59.4 seconds till halftime. It was on a fourth-and-two play at the Waseca 20-yard line, and again it was Voss. It was like taking candy from a baby. When Voss faked a handoff to Buhl, who was the obvious player to receive the ball on fourth down and short, the entire Bluejay defense sold out. Nobody came close to stopping Voss from scoring his second touchdown of the game.
“Everybody went for the option, and I took it out and I went for it. After pound, pound, pound, you know they’re going to go for it. I just pulled it out and got in,” Voss explained.
JCC made the score 24-14 midway through the third quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Storm. Dufault gave the Bluejays life with 5:12 showing on the third quarter clock on a 1-yard TD on a keeper. The ensuing PAT brought the Jays within three, but they never threatened after that.
Buhl closed out the scoring with 8:08 left in the game on a 2-yard carry.
Voss, who sprained his AC joint late in the contest, reminded friends not to jostle him too much as they congratulated him. Nothing, however, could diminish his joy at winning.
“It just shows the fight we have. We got down fourteen to nothing. When you get down like that, most teams quit,” he said. “But I’m so glad I get to play with such a great bunch of guys.”