CLASS AA SEMIFINALS: Luverne comeback falls just short, 27-21

MINNEAPOLIS -- Early in the third quarter Friday night, Luverne looked like it was finished. The Cardinals had just given up a touchdown and were trailing 24-6 to Moose Lake/Willow River in the Class AA football semifinals. But the red and white ...

Luverne's Mulder
Michael Brauer/Daily Globe Luverne's Taylor Mulder (22) bulls into the end zone through three Moose Lake/Willow River defenders in the fourth quarter of Friday's Class AA state football semifinal game in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Early in the third quarter Friday night, Luverne looked like it was finished.

The Cardinals had just given up a touchdown and were trailing 24-6 to Moose Lake/Willow River in the Class AA football semifinals.

But the red and white wouldn't go down without a fight.

Luverne came storming back from an 18-point deficit to close to within six before ML/WR's Michael Unzen intercepted a pass with 43 seconds left to halt the Cardinal comeback, and the Rebels advanced to next week's state championship at the Metrodome with a 27-21 victory.

"We were able to put some stuff together and get some points on the board," Cardinals' head coach Todd Oye said. "We've been making our own luck and we just ran out of it (Friday) night."


The Rebels jumped all over Luverne right out of the gate.

ML/WR forced a quick three-and-out, and Austin Jacobson scampered for a 52-yard touchdown run on the offense's first play from scrimmage.

On the Cardinals' next possession, the Rebels' Spencer Clough blocked Luverne's punt, which set up Mike Bennett's 25-yard field goal to extend the early lead to 10-0.

That blocked punt, two early dropped passes, two fumbles and 40 yards worth of penalties dug Luverne into a hole that was too deep to climb out of.

"That was tough right away; ML/WR played with a lot of energy," Oye said. "We didn't match that energy. That first half, there were so many mistakes that we made."

"If we didn't have those turnovers, we'd have been right in the game," Cardinals' halfback Taylor Mulder said. "We'd have had it."

Luverne did put together an 11-play, 62-yard drive in the first quarter that Hayden Bauman capped when he plowed into the end zone from three yards out. The extra point attempt was no good, though, and the Cardinals trailed 10-6.

That missed PAT was the first of three failed conversion attempts after touchdowns for Luverne.


The Cardinals were stopped short both times they tried for two in the second half, which helped ML/WR keep a two-possession lead for a good portion of the game.

"What really hurt us was our extra-point conversions," Oye said. "We just didn't execute things. You take a look at a point here and a point there, and going for two was what we thought would be best.

"We did everything we could."

The Rebels built themselves quite a cushion, too.

They took a 17-6 lead into halftime after Jacobson's second touchdown of the night, a three-yard run.

ML/WR had already piled up 165 rushing yards by the time the game reached intermission. The Rebels finished with 283 total yards, all of them on the ground.

Jacobson had 152 of those yards on 22 carries, to go along with his pair of touchdowns.

But he wasn't the only Rebel to top the century mark. Unzen carried the ball 18 times for 100 more yards, including a 22-yard jaunt in the third quarter to put ML/WR up 24-6.


Luverne, though, started to chip away in the second half.

"At halftime, our message was, 'You need to eliminate those mistakes,'" Oye said. "If we do that, then we're right there with them."

The Cardinals listened.

They rattled off back-to-back, 10-play scoring drives of 67 and 54 yards, each ending in four-yard touchdown runs.

Collin Rofshus plunged in for the score on the first march, and Mulder became the third Cardinal back to hit paydirt on the next one.

Mulder showed little expression, simply handing the ball to the official and jogging off the field.

"You might as well give them the ball and keep the game going so we can get ahead," he said. "There's no reason to celebrate, you can do that later on."

Mulder led the Cardinals with 84 yards on 17 carries.


"They were doing a really good job at covering the perimeter, but Taylor's really good at cutting over the middle with our line," Oye said. "That last touchdown he scored was a big one."

Luverne traded the dozen points with another Bennett field goal, this one good from 23 yards, and ML/WR still led 27-18 midway through the final quarter.

The Cardinals' forced a three-and-out, and their offense marched 62 yards before the Rebels' defense stiffened.

B.G. Xaisongkham split the uprights with a 29-yarder, and the margin was clipped to 27-21.

The deeper into the game that Luverne got, the more potent its hurry-up offense became.

Quarterback Ryan Hoff completed 10 of 15 passes for 122 yards on those three consecutive scoring drives. He finished with 15 completions for 169 yards.

Luverne actually ended up outgaining ML/WR, racking up 351 yards of total offense.

"In that fourth quarter we had momentum," Oye said. "We had a lot of energy out there; the kids stepped up and made plays when they had to. We just ran out of time."


After a failed onside kick, the Cardinals defense held once again, allowing only three yards over four downs.

Luverne spent all of its timeouts on the stop, giving the ball back to its offense at the Cardinals' own 20-yard line with 1:38 left on the clock.

Hoff hit Mulder for seven yards, Eric Kor for six and Trever Stoffel for nine before the quarterback scrambled out of bounds for 16 more yards at ML/WR's 42.

For a few moments, it looked like Luverne had a little more left in the tank.

But with 43 seconds left, Hoff sailed a bomb down the right sideline towards Nick Meyer. Unzen gained better position while the ball hung in the air, though, and he picked off the pass to seal the deal.

Luverne ended the Rebels' playoff run three years ago with a 33-27 win at the Metrodome. This time, it was ML/WR's turn to win by six in the semifinals.

Luverne ends the season with a 10-3 mark and a fourth-straight Metrodome appearance. The Cardinals had made the state finals the three previous years, but with only six returning starters, some thought this season might be a rebuilding one.

They were wrong.


"We surprised some people, but I knew it all along," Mulder said. "I had a lot of fun this season, my last year, and I wish the team luck next year."

Oye credits seniors like Mulder for keeping Luverne's playoff tradition going.

"Our seniors continued what we've done," the coach said. "We were able to get back to the Metrodome. A lot of teams work to get here, and we've been fortunate enough to do it four years in a row.

"Our seniors just showed the way to the younger guys and we hope we can keep working and building to get back here again."

Luverne 6 0 6 9 -- 21

ML/WR 10 7 7 3 -- 27

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