Late TD gives Panthers victory

TRACY -- On paper, it looked like a colossal mismatch. On the field, it nearly was an even bigger upset. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton's football team forced a turnover with less than two minutes remaining and scored a touchdown with 29 seconds left Satur...

Matt Huss/Daily Globe Windom running back Clint Jurgens (25) tries to break a tackle by Tracy-Milroy-Balaton's Brandon Kirk as the Panthers' John Swenhaugen (21) looks on during a Section 3AA playoff game Saturday in Tracy.

TRACY -- On paper, it looked like a colossal mismatch.

On the field, it nearly was an even bigger upset.

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton's football team forced a turnover with less than two minutes remaining and scored a touchdown with 29 seconds left Saturday to hand Windom an 8-0 loss and to avoid a huge upset in the second round of the Section 3AA playoffs.

The second-seeded Panthers will face top-seeded Luverne at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Southwest Minnesota State Regional Event Center, in Marshall, for the Section 3AA championship.

T-M-B (10-0), which entered the game ranked No. 6 in Class 2A, outscored its opponents 309-50 en route to an undefeated regular season and the Little Sioux Conference championship. Its high-powered offense averaged 38.6 points per contest, while its defense gave up just 6.2 points and never allowed an opponent to score more than 13 in a game.


The Eagles (3-7) were outscored 201-98 during the regular season and didn't record their first Southwest Conference win until their regular-season finale -- an 8-7 victory over Pipestone Area.

Windom upset third-seeded Jackson County Central, which was without injured starting quarterback Nathan Brandt, for its first playoff win since 2004 to advance to face the heavily favored Panthers.

"We didn't really look at statistics and say, 'Wow, this is what these guys are,'" Windom coach Erin Elder said. "We watched them on film and said, 'Hey, we match up with these guys; we can play with these guys.'"

For 47 minutes and 31 seconds, it was anyone's game.

Windom drove inside of T-M-B's 30-yard line three times -- twice in its first three drives -- but went four-and-out on each occasion.

"We had some opportunities where we should have capitalized -- some interceptions we should have had and some plays we should have done better," Elder said. "And, boy, when it's a tight game, any of those plays make a huge difference, but that's the game of football."

Eagles defenders dropped two would-be interceptions, but their defense held T-M-B's offense in check for much of the game. The Panthers drove inside of Windom's 30-yard line five times -- twice on its first eight drives -- but Windom's defense refused to break.

No stop was more impressive than the Eagles' stand late in the fourth quarter that had each coach thinking about overtime.


After a Windom punt, the Panthers took over at their own 47-yard line. T-M-B starting quarterback Isaac Dolan followed with four consecutive rushes, totaling 29 yards, and connected with Josh Hook on a 4-yard pass to give the Panthers a first down at Windom's 20-yard line.

A false start, followed by an incompletion, made it third-and-12. Dolan rolled to his right, buying time, and fired a bullet to Walker Schaar, who ran a perfect curl route, for a 12-yard gain and a first down on Windom's 13-yard line.

On the next play, Windom stopped T-M-B running back Brandon Kirk at the line of scrimmage but was called for a 5-yard facemask penalty, giving the Panthers a first-and-5 at the 8-yard line. Three rushes and four yards later, T-M-B faced a fourth down and needed just inches to get a new set of downs.

After a timeout, Dolan dived forward on a quarterback sneak. The officials called for a measurement, which confirmed Windom's game-saving stand.

Or so it seemed.

"We were already talking (about) overtime," T-M-B co-head coach Randy McIntire said. "We were going through what we were going to call in overtime."

It was much the same for Elder, who decided to run the clock down and opt to take his chances in an extra period.

"When we got the ball back on offense, we were just going to run the ball out," he said. "We were starting to think about what plays we were going to run in overtime, so that's what we were preparing for."


On second down, with the clock approaching the one-minute mark, T-M-B junior linebacker Noah Van Nevel made the play of his career.

Filling in for the injured Keith Engelkes and making his first career start on varsity, Van Nevel ripped the ball from Windom running back Nick Eisenmenger's arms.

"I just went up and made the tackle, and he wasn't falling down, and the ball was right on my chest, so I just grabbed it and pulled it out," Van Nevel said. "He was holding it; I just grabbed it, and he tried to grab it back, but the ref saw I had it."

Van Nevel's forced fumble and his subsequent fumble recovery gave T-M-B the ball at Windom's 3-yard line with 1:11 remaining.

After a rush for no gain and an incompletion, Dolan dropped back and lobbed a fade into the corner of the end zone. Senior wide receiver John Swenhaugen sold a slant route, then raced to the corner, skied for the catch and came down with both feet in the end zone to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead with 29 seconds remaining.

"I was nervous, very nervous," Swenhaugen said. "But I thought, 'Hey, this is my chance to do something big. I have to make a big play and get the game over."

Swenhaugen caught a pass from Dolan for the two-point conversion.

Windom took over from its own 48-yard line, and, after two incompletions, Ryan Gilbertson connected with Lee Holt on a 12-yard pass play. But Gilbertson's desperation toss on the game's final play was knocked down by Swenhaugen in the end zone.


"Sometimes, as a coach and a player, you'd rather get beat badly than have an 8-0 loss where the other team scores with 30-some seconds left," Elder said. "It's tough. My heart goes out to those seniors who have played their careers like they did and went through what they went through.

"To play a great (T-M-B) team and not pull this one out, it's hard."

Gilbertson was 7-of-18 passing for 71 yards, and Jake Holt had three receptions for 45 yards. Jurgens had 16 carries for 42 yards to lead Windom, which rushed for 94 yards and totaled 165 yards.

Dolan was 13-of-30 passing for 104 yards and a touchdown, and he added had 11 carries for 43 yards. Hook had four receptions for 51 yards to lead T-M-B, which totaled 195 yards on the day.

Windom 0 0 0 0 -- 0

T-M-B 0 0 0 8 -- 8

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