Pioneers unseat Knights; Ponies gallop past Polars; and Raptors claw Titans

Hill-Murray 30 - Harding 13

The Hill-Murray Pioneers hosted the Harding Knights Oct. 27 in semifinal action of Section 4AAAA football.

The first 24 minutes of the game at Hill-Murray High School was something of a disaster - except for a few exceptional plays - for the Pioneers.

The first half easily could have seen the Knights on top of the Pioneers if it weren't for a few long distance jaunts by the Pioneers.

More important was the absence of Hill-Murray starting quarterback Zach LaValle. The senior, three-year starter suffered a knee injury during practice this past week and had surgery Oct. 26.

Hill-Murray coach Mark Mauer alluded to LaValle's injury following the game. "It is really a shame. First of all you feel bad for the kid and (then) for the team. We made some big adjustments this week and put some things in to make a difference.

"We got by the first half and our defense stepped up. But then our defense has played well all year.

"Give credit to Harding. They are a very respectable team. Their quarterback (Antonio Wagener) is exceptional.

"Luckily, we were able to contain him today. But Harding played hard and give them credit," Mauer said.

"They have a very good defense," stated Harding head coach Michael Houston. "They disrupted our rhythm, and we couldn't get back on track. But these kids of ours worked hard to the very end.

"This is a special group of seniors we have. They have worked hard all season, and it began in the off season.

"They have performed all year long with tremendous hearts. I'm proud of them."

Harding, seeded third in Section 4AAAA, reached the semifinal game with a 34-14 victory over Como Park. The Pioneers (seeded second) were waiting in the wings because they had a "bye" in the opening round of the playoffs.

Long passes, long runs

Harding took the opening kickoff and went three-and-out. The Knights punted, and the Pioneers got the ball at their 25.

On their second play from scrimmage, Dusty Krueger broke through the line. He exploded through a couple of would-be tacklers and was off to the races. The junior Hill-Murray speedster ended 74 yards later in the Harding end zone.

Brennan LaFeber booted the point after and in just two plays by Hill-Murray they were on top by 7-0.

Late in the first quarter the Knights pounced on a Pioneers' fumble that gave them the ball at their 44. A big run by quarterback Wagener for 26 yards was part of a seven-play, 56-yard drive that ended when Joe Vue crashed into pay dirt from four yards out.

Na Her put the PAT through and with 2:11 gone in the second quarter the score was level at 7-7.

Hill-Murray took the ensuing kickoff and began at its 37. Fill-in quarterback Nick Engels began to hit big time. Two passes -- Engels to Shane Finnegan -- netted 63 yards and set up a four-yard aerial to Jack Cichy for a TD. LaFeber was good for the point after and the Pioneers were up 14-7.

Late in the first half the Pioneers got the ball at their 10-yard line. Krueger broke free for 21 yards and then Engels hit Cichy on a 69-yard TD strike and with the PAT by LaFeber the Pioneers took a 21-7 margin into the halftime intermission.

The score remained through the third quarter with the defense on both sides of the ball playing tough.

Interceptions & TDs

Early in the fourth quarter when a Hill-Murray drive bogged down on the Harding 10, LaFeber came on and drilled a 27-yard field goal to extend the Hill-Murray's lead to 24-7 just 49 seconds into the final quarter.

On the Knights' next possession, junior defensive back Darby Regan stepped in front of a pass for an interception.

The Pioneers got the ball right back and began at Harding's 22.

Krueger took the ball two plays to the 10 and from there Michael Alada hit Finnegan open in the end zone. The PAT was blocked but the Pioneers had built a 30-7 lead with 9:48 left in the game.

Harding took the ensuing kickoff and marched 51 yards in seven plays. A big play -- a 34-yard pass Wagener to Savoun Theng -- moved the ball to the 4-yard line.

From there Wagener kept the ball and plowed his way into the end zone. The point-after attempt was blocked, and the final score, 30-13, was posted.

In the game Krueger toted the ball 24 time for the Pioneers and gained 181 yards and one TD. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry.

Jack Cichy also had a stellar afternoon for Hill-Murray with 136 yards in six carries for an average of 2.6 per. Cichy also had a pair of touchdowns.

The loss ended Harding's season and the Pioneers will take their 7-2 record into a game against South St. Paul (1) at South St. Paul 7 p.m., Nov. 2,

The Packers advanced to the finals with a 43-0 win over New Life Academy.

Stillwater 41 - North 13

The North High Polars' Marshall Dawson - in a football game played at Stillwater Oct. 26 - scored the first and last touchdowns of the 4AAAAAA game.

The difference in the game, however, was that Stillwater scored four TDs and kicked two field goals in between the North scores.

North (seeded eighth) put up a good fight against the No. 1 seed Ponies.

But games are not won on statistics.

First downs were 12 for the Polars to 16 for the Ponies. Possession time for North was 26:41 to Stillwater's 21:19. But in total net yardage Stillwater outdistanced North by 320 to 193.

The big difference came in passing yards where Stillwater held a 143 to 61 yards advantage. North got the first TD after it recovered a Stillwater fumble at the Ponies' 25-yard line.

It took six plays before Dawson went in from seven yards out. A try for a two-point conversion failed but with 6:07 remaining in the first quarter, North was on top of a 6-0 score.

After the Polars were penalized on the kickoff, Stillwater ran the boot back to the 50.

From there it took one play - a 50-yard pass/run - and 14 seconds for the Ponies to retaliate.

The PAT was good and Stillwater had a lead it would never relinquish.

Stillwater scored 17 points in the second quarter. They added 17 more in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Marshall pulled in a 10-yard pass from quarterback Marcelo Neblett. Lars Thome booted the PAT, and the final points in the 28-point differential were posted.

East Ridge 36 - Tartan 22

A late first-half touchdown and a punishing second half propelled the East Ridge Raptors past the Tartan Titans.

The Raptors took the opening kickoff and marched the length of the field for the opening tally.

Nick Leach put the first points up with a three-yard run. The boot for the extra point was faked and Sam Cobbs went in for two points to give East Ridge an 8-0 lead.

The Titans took the ensuing kickoff and matched the East Ridge effort when they marched the length of the field. Junior running back Eli McGeehan finished the effort with a three-yard plunge into pay dirt.

McGeehan then duplicated the East Ridge effort by going for the two-point conversion to move the score to level at 8-8. Play moved into the second quarter and East Ridge's powerful offense again went on a sustained march. Once more the Raptors took the lead when Seth Green plowed in from one-yard out. This time there was no fake and Alec Tostenrud put the PAT through the uprights to give the Raptors a 15-8 margin.

Again the Titans seemed undaunted. Quarterback Tim McCarthy hooked up with senior wide receiver Jahlil Payne on a 72-yard pass/run that carried into the end zone.

Joe "True-Toe" Tvosvold booted the PAT and the score was again level, this time at 15-15.

Controversial TD

The stands were being treated to some exciting football as first one team and then the other exploded. The Tartan defense stiffened as time began to turn short in the first half of play. Then, perhaps a big turning point came when the Titans had East Ridge - on two consecutive sacks - backed up to a third down and 35 yards to go.

At that point ninth-grade quarterback Green lofted a pass that George Behr gathered in for a first down.

The long third-down conversion took most of the wind out of the Titans' sails.

East Ridge marched to the Tartan 1-yard line. Again the Tartan defense came up big and threw the Raptors back. But a second blow was dealt when on fourth down at the Tartan 1-yard line, Green crashed in for a controversial TD.

The officials huddled for an agonizingly long time before the decision was made that indeed - depending on who you ask - a touchdown had been scored.

Tostenrud booted the extra point and when the clock ran out on the first half, East Ridge was up 22-15.

The Titans took the second-half kickoff and began yet another march. On third down and four yards to go, a half-back option pass fell incomplete as the East Ridge defense - led by Ryan Yoshida, among others - hit the passer and made the ball fall incomplete.

Also the punishing running of Leach - he rushed 27 times for 164-yards, a 6.0 average and three TDs - began to wear the Tartan defense down.

On successive drives Leach crashed in to score from four-yards and two-yards out. With Tostenrud true on the points after East Ridge mounted the score to 36-15.

With East Ridge playing their spares the Titans managed another touchdown when Hank Ryan went in from eight-yards out. Tjosvold made good on the final point of the game as East Ridge moved on in the 5AAAAA. playoffs

The Raptors will play the Cadets at St. Thomas, 7 p.m., Nov. 2 for the opportunity to play in the state tournament.