PREP FOOTBALL: Luverne faces Moose Lake/Willow River today in semis

MINNEAPOLIS -- If there was anything positive that Luverne could take away from last year's 47-7 state championship loss to Caledonia, the Cardinals learned a valuable lesson in defeat.

Luverne's Ryan Hoff
Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Luverne quarterback Ryan Hoff (10) looks to throw to an open receiver during last week's state quarterfinal football game in St. Peter.

MINNEAPOLIS -- If there was anything positive that Luverne could take away from last year's 47-7 state championship loss to Caledonia, the Cardinals learned a valuable lesson in defeat.

In football, speed kills.

"We were just really impressed with their team speed, and it's something we tried to take with us," Luverne's head coach Todd Oye said.

It was the second time in a row that the Cardinals lost to Caledonia in the title game, and the third straight year that they finished as Class AA state runners-up.

But if they win today's semifinal matchup against Moose Lake/Willow River, they'll get a fourth shot at that elusive championship.


Luverne and ML/WR will square off at 5:45 p.m. in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

In previous years, Luverne got to this point using tremendous power. This year's squad is smaller, but quicker.

A speedy defensive unit is something Oye and his players envisioned ever since that loss to Caledonia. Now, the Cardinals are emulating the Warriors' scheme.

"We knew we'd have the personnel to do something similar on defense this year," Oye said.

"We played Caledonia, and they were so fast; that became our motto," Cardinals' defensive back Nick Meyer said. "We've built this motto of speed wins. Defensively, we've had games where we're just all over."

Games like last week's quarterfinal victory, a 27-0 shutout of Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop. Luverne forced four turnovers, including Meyer's eighth interception of the year.

The Cardinals' defense has 24 takeaways in 12 games this season.

"That is our goal, to take the ball away," Oye said. "But a lot of it, to have the opportunity to take the ball, you have to make sure you have a sound defensive scheme first."


As this season progressed, so did the Cardinal players -- especially in the quick, defensive schemes.

"The first couple of games, we kind of came together and said, 'We might actually have something here,'" Meyer said. "We've been a faster team."

Luverne wasn't the only squad to learn first hand from Caledonia, though.

Moose Lake/Willow River lost to the Warriors 44-13 in the 2008 semifinals, one round before the Cardinals' title game defeat.

The undefeated Rebels (12-0) are back this year, featuring a quick defense very similar to Luverne's -- one that has forced 33 turnovers of its own.

ML/WR's offense, though, might be even more impressive.

The Rebels got by Hawley last week in a high-scoring, 41-35 overtime affair.

Over their first 12 games, ML/WR tailbacks Michael Unzen and Austin Jacobson combined for more than 2,800 yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground.


The Rebels can throw the ball, too.

Quarterback Hayden Hoffman passed for 603 yards to go along with a stellar 12-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Jacobson hauled in seven of those scores.

"They run an offense similar to what Windom does," Oye said. "They run really tight splits, and that could present some problems."

And if being in the state semifinals isn't enough motivation for the Rebels, Luverne was the one that ended the ML/WR's season in the state semifinals three years ago.

The Cardinals held on 33-27 in that contest to advance to the 2006 Class AA championship, a game the Rebels haven't likely forgotten.

Both schools have become pretty familiar with the Metrodome in recent years.

ML/WR is making its third trip to the semifinals in four seasons, and both Luverne and the Rebels have made the state playoffs in each of the past four years.


That previous experience should benefit both teams, according to Oye.

"Just being able to know the routine, where to stretch, warm up, which locker rooms to go to," the coach said, "It's definitely not a disadvantage."

The Cardinals and Rebels hold one more advantage: Caledonia, last season's Achilles heel for both, was ousted 20-13 by Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in the first round.

W-E-M and Eden Valley-Watkins will now play in the other Class AA semifinal, with the winner advancing to take on either Luverne or ML/WR next week.

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