Football: Hill-Murray advances in playoffs

Hill-Murray junior Marshawn Wilson stretches towards the goal line, one of two touchdowns, as Johnson defenders DeMarko Venton (32) and Todd Wyberila (3) are in on the down. The Pioneers won 42-22 in the Section 4AAAA semifinal held at Harding Oct. 26. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Tartan senior Dion Wallisch (20) wrestled St. Thomas Academy Carter Vanasek (23) out of bounds during Section 5AAAAA semifinal action. The Titans lost 35-14 at home Oct. 26 (Linda Baumeister/Review)

St. Thomas stops Tartan bid for section title

Wally Wakefield
Review staff

In section football playoffs, Hill-Murray met Johnson at Bakken Field on the campus of Harding High School Oct. 26 and dashed the Governors’ hopes of further play this season with a 42-22 triumph.

In other playoff action, the Tartan Titans hosted St. Thomas Academy and fell to their Classic Suburban Conference (CSC) opponents by 35-14.

Hill-Murray 42 - Johnson 22

Almost before the sparse number of spectators had settled into their seats and wrapped their blankets around their shoulders, the Hill-Murray Pioneers built a lead they would not surrender for the remainder of the Section 4, Class AAAA football playoff game on Saturday, Oct. 26.

After the 20-point triumph, Hill-Murray first-year head coach Tony Danna said, “When you score that many points at the beginning of a game, you put the other team in a tough situation.

“We had all three phases of our game working today. We were hitting on all cylinders, and it showed early on.

“Our special teams made a difference today. That, and our defense and offense complemented each other. It was a good win. Now we’ll try to extend our success,” Danna said.

Hill-Murray won the coin toss and opted not to take the opening kickoff. The Governors went 3-and-out, and the Pioneers took over at their 37-yard line. It took just four plays for the Pioneers to score.

An 8-yard run by Dusty Krueger blasted up the middle for six points. A two-point conversion run failed, but just 3:55 into the game Hill-Murray was up 6-0.

On their next possession, the Governors went nowhere. On fourth down, Hill-Murray’s Davis Zarembinski smothered a punt. It rolled back toward the Johnson end zone where Conor Nath scooped it up at the 10-yard line and ran in for six points.

Krueger went in for a two-point conversion, and Hill-Murray was on top 14-0 with 5:26 remaining in the first quarter.

Again the Governors could not advance the ball. Hill-Murray junior running back Sam Westby gathered in the ball, eluded a would-be tackler and set off on a 46-yard punt return into pay dirt.

With three minutes remaining in the first quarter, Brennan LaFeber booted the point after and Hill-Murray’s lead extended to 21-0.

Hill-Murray defensive lineman junior Connor Thury, a junior, recovered the ball at the Johnson 12. A 10-yard penalty put the ball back on the Governors’ 22.

A pass—19 yards from Nick Engels to Alex Ogren—moved the ball to the 3-yard line. From there, Krueger plunged in for the score. LaFeber added the PAT and with 1:42 left in the first, it was 28-0 Pioneers.

Play moved into the second quarter and the Johnson fortunes continued to fare poorly.

A fourth-down attempt failed, and Hill-Murray took over at the Johnson 23. Just 3:16 into the second quarter Marshawn Wilson pushed over from 1-yard out. LaFeber booted the PAT and it became 35-0.

A Johnson pass was picked off by senior linebacker John Eger, but this time the Hill-Murray offense was stymied by the Governors.

On its next offensive thrust, Hill-Murray finished a six-play, 43-yard drive when Engels hit Wilson on a 9-yard aerial in the end zone. LaFeber’s point after was true, and Hill-Murray was on top by 42-0 with 1:44 remaining before halftime.

The second half was all Johnson as Hill-Murray inserted its reserve players.

As play moved into the second session, the Governors put together a nine-play, 80-yard drive. A huge chunk of the 80 yards was a 32-yard jaunt by Malik Menifee to the Hill-Murray 10.

From there, quarterback Sam Moberg connected on a 10-yard aerial with Jalen Mobley. Moberg then ran in for a two-point conversion, and the Governors were on the board at 8-42.

Play moved into the fourth quarter with Johnson again on the move. Just 2:12 into the final 12 minutes Tre’vion Brown broke free for a 10-yard jaunt into pay dirt. A two-point conversion attempt failed, but Hill-Murray’s lead had been trimmed to 42-14.

Later in the quarter, Johnson took over on its 33. The 67-yard drive ended when Brown again broke free and sped 18 yards for a touchdown.

This time Moberg hit Mobley for two points and the final score, 42-22, was posted.

Next up, the Pioneers will face Classic Suburban Conference nemesis South St. Paul in the Section 4AAAA championship game at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1, at the Packers’ home field. The winner will advance to the state tournament.

St. Thomas 35 - Tartan 14

Odds of 3-to-1 are never good when they’re not in your favor.

Such was the case for the Tartan Titans Saturday, Oct. 26, when the St. Thomas Academy Cadets came to Oakdale for a football confrontation in Section 5AAAAA.

St. Thomas utilized three running backs against the Titans’ ace Keenen Bellaphant and came out on top of a 35-14 win.

The St. Thomas triumph ended Tartan’s season with a record of 6-3 and sent the Cadets (7-2) into a section championship game against Henry Sibley (5-3).

The Cadets offset Bellaphant’s 168-yards rushing total and five turnovers with running backs Carter Vanasek, Joe Herbeck and Mario Bognanno who consistently had the Tartan defensive players back on their heels.

Bellaphant carried 23 times for an average of 7.3 per carry.

The St. Thomas trio carried the ball 42 times for 330 yards, four touchdowns and an average of 7.5 yards per carry. Of the 330 yards, Vanasek went 12/84-7.0; Herbeck 15/108-7.2, and Bognanno 12/112-9.3.

The St. Thomas defense also gained two Tartan turnovers.

The opening touchdown came when Jackson Finn pulled down a 20-yard pass from quarterback Ben Fiers. Mac Schmidt booted the PAT for a 7-0 St. Thomas lead.

The Titans countered in the second quarter when Bellaphant bounded into pay dirt from 12 yards out. Erik Eastwood put the PAT through the uprights and the score was level at 7-7.

St. Thomas changed that when Vanasek scored from 6 yards out. Schmidt’s boot was good and the Cadets were on top to stay at 14-7.

Also in the second quarter, Herbeck broke free and went on a 31-yard jaunt for six points. Schmidt’s kick was good, and the Cadets led 21-7 at halftime.

In the third quarter, St. Thomas continued its scoring splurge. Bognanno pulled down a pass from Fiers and turned it into a 41-yard pass/run for a TD.

Again Schmidt’s PAT was good to push the count to a St. Thomas 28-7 advantage.

Then the Cadets’ Herbeck finished off a drive with a 1-yard plunge for a score. Schmidt booted his fifth PAT and St. Thomas led 35-7.

The final score came when Tartan quarterback connected with senior wide receiver Triston Richert on a 31-yard touchdown toss. Eastwood booted the final point in the St. Thomas victory and the Cadets moved on to the Section 5, Class AAAAA championship game.

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