LUVERNE -- Buoyed by a blast of confidence after winning their first game on the last night of the regular season and believing they could upset Luverne in the first round of the Section 3AAA football tournament Tuesday night, the Worthington Trojans played the host Cardinals even through most of the first half.

But they couldn’t sustain it, and the Cardinals earned a 23-7 victory.

Luverne Cardinals Ashton Sandulte (7) breaks the tackle by Worthington defensive back Andrew Dorcey (3) and moves to the open field pursued by Trojans Cole Hennings (73) and Nasim Zeidi (32) during Section 3AAA quarter finals Tuesday night in Luverne. Tim Middagh / The Globe
Luverne Cardinals Ashton Sandulte (7) breaks the tackle by Worthington defensive back Andrew Dorcey (3) and moves to the open field pursued by Trojans Cole Hennings (73) and Nasim Zeidi (32) during Section 3AAA quarter finals Tuesday night in Luverne. Tim Middagh / The Globe

The win gave LHS a shot at top-seeded Fairmont at 7 p.m. Saturday in the section semifinals, in Fairmont. For the Trojans, it ended a season that was, for the most part, disappointing. They finished the year with a 1-8 record.

Both the Trojans and the Cardinals were scoreless in Tuesday’s first quarter, though the Trojans started well by picking up three first downs on their first possession on seven running plays. It was only with 18 seconds remaining in the half when the Cards finally put points on the board, on a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Casey Sehr to Eli Radtke.

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Leading 6-0 at halftime, Luverne scored again on its second play from scrimmage in the third quarter as senior running back Ashton Sandbulte streaked 84 yards down the right sideline.

“We had a lot of energy going into the second half,” said Worthington senior quarterback Jake Brandner, “and after that, everybody got down on themselves.”

But not for long. After Luverne booted a short kick, Worthington set up on offense again at its own 49-yard line. On 4th-and-5, Brandner hit on a 10-yard pass to junior wide receiver Marenono Opiew, and later, on 3rd-and-5, Luverne was whistled for an off-sides penalty that gave the visitors another set of downs.

A nifty 22-yard run by freshman back Jacari Swinea -- which would have given Worthington a 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line, was called back for a holding penalty. But the determined Trojans kept charging. On a 4th-and-1 play, Brandner snuck forward for a first down to the Cardinals’ 15. A few plays later, senior running back Andrew Dorsey scored on a 4-yard carry.

A Triston Sauerbrei extra point made the score 14-7.

The fourth quarter began with Worthington still believing. But the Cardinals scored again with 6:18 remaining in the game on a 6-yard Sandbulte run. With time beginning to wear against the Trojans, Luverne tacked on a safety when the Trojans -- deep in their own territory -- were caught with a holding penalty in the end zone.

The win pushed Luverne to 4-5 on the year. In a regular season meeting between the two teams, the Cardinals shut out the Trojans 29-0. The rematch was more tightly fought, but the Cards won again.

After the game, Brandner, the Trojans’ on-field leader squatted on the gridiron turf for many minutes while head coach Geno Lais summed up the season in the best possible way. Brandner had tears in his eyes when he came up for air.

“I did it with the people I love the most. These are my brothers. This is my family,” Brandner said. “I think a wise coach, Geno Lais, once said, ‘You’ll never remember your record. You’ll just always remember who you did it with.”

Final statistics showed Luverne with 315 yards of total offense compared to Worthington’s 165. Brandner completed three of nine passes for 56 yards and two interceptions. Sehr connected on 11 of 20 for 127 yards. Swinea rushed 23 times for 61 yards while Sandbulte carried 15 times for 141.

Lais said he was proud of his team.

“They really played hard. We were physical on defense. We matched them on defense,” he said. “I was really happy with our first drive. We got some first downs into the wind.

“I thought coming in we had a pretty good, legitimate shot. The kids thought so, too,” Lais declared.

“Everybody wanted it. Everybody wanted to win. No one wants to be done,” said Brandner.

Worthington 0 0 7 0 -- 7

Luverne 0 6 8 9 -- 23