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Luverne overcomes upset-minded WHS football squad, 14-0

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Worthington High School running back Emmett Bickett (21) is met by Luverne defender LaShad Smith Tuesday night in section football action in Luverne. (Aaron Hagen/The Globe)

LUVERNE -- LaShad Smith was around the ball all night.

A junior cornerback for Luverne’s football team, Smith had a first-quarter fumble recovery and a fourth-quarter interception for a Cardinal defense that earned a 14-0 victory over Worthington in Tuesday night’s Section 3AAA football playoff game.

“It was a great defensive game for us overall,” Smith said. “We pitched a shutout and I think that’s the first time that’s happened.”

The Trojans, however, played one of their better games all season, said head coach Gene Lais.

“We played hard; we were ready,” Lais said. “They were ready in the locker room, and they were ready all week. The seniors, you can’t say enough about those guys. We told them the postseason is theirs and they were ready tonight. We came out and battled.”

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The game was scoreless in the first half, and two long plays in the third quarter produced the only touchdowns in the game. Each team had key turnovers in the first half, with the Cardinals fumbling on Worthington’s 1-yard line.

“What a great effort out of the Worthington team. We said before the game they’ve had a lot of close games that slipped away from them. They’re not an 0-8 team, the seedings sometimes don’t say how good a team is,” LHS head coach Todd Oye said. “I thought Worthington controlled the first half. We got a fortunate turnover and then on a one-yard play, fumbled it in the end zone and gave them the ball right back. Give Worthington a lot of credit for that first half.”

After the Cardinal defense made a fourth-down stop early in the third quarter, the Luverne offense was faced with its own fourth down. Quarterback Casey Sehr found an open Bailey Cowell for a 27-yard touchdown to put the Cardinals on top.

“We played smarter,” Smith said of the third quarter. “We knew what was going to happen and we knew what they were going to do. We figured them out in the first half. We had a nice push and got a couple big plays.”

Later in the quarter, the Luverne defense again forced a punt. On the ensuing play, Ashton Sandbulte (19 carries, 96 yards) scored from 28 yards out, giving LHS a 14-0 lead.

“Credit to the offensive line for pushing through,” Smith said. “We got sophomore Ashton Sandbulte in there making plays, I love that.”

The Cardinal defense did the rest.

Smith intercepted a pass early in the fourth quarter and stalled a Trojan drive.

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“I was hoping they would throw it over there, I was waiting all game,” Smith said.

Worthington, who had a field goal blocked on its first drive of the game, had one final chance at points in the final four minutes. But facing a fourth and two, quarterback Will Brandner’s pass was incomplete, sealing the Cardinal victory.

“With our defensive line, every time they tried running the ball, we pretty much just stuffed them right away,” Smith said. “Our corners and safeties were locked down and our linebackers, you couldn’t get past them.”

The third-seeded Cardinals (7-2) advance to play second-seeded Jackson County Central at 3 p.m. Saturday in Jackson.

“We just have to come mentally prepared,” Smith said. “We know they are a good team. They pass a lot, just like these guys and they have a mobile quarterback.”

For Worthington, the season ends with an 0-9 record.

“We’ve been telling these guys all year, we’re only a few plays away from being 3-5 or 4-4,” Lais said. “They are a good team. We’re not an 0-9 team. We have so many good kids that work hard and try hard. And that’s the hard part about tonight. The cool part is they are still here because they genuinely care about each other and they are enjoying time with each other. The tears are turning to smiles right now.”

Worthington 0 0 0 0 -- 0

Luverne 0 0 14 0 -- 14

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Running hard, Luverne's Bailey Cowell tries to escape the grasp of WHS Trojan Kipton Jenson (7) as teammates Joe Boever (2), Luke Gordon (82) and Devynn Khanya (6) gather near. (Aaron Hagen/The Globe)

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