Bucs win, going to Dome
In football it’s been said that defense wins championships.
On Saturday, a goal-line stand, two fumble recoveries and an interception in the fourth quarter lifted No. 2-ranked Blue Earth Area to a 21-12 victory over No. 3 St. Croix Lutheran and earn a trip to the Metrodome.
“It feels like a dream,” says head coach Randy Kuechenmeister. “I’m pretty proud of the boys and their effort.”
The veteran coach of 22 years sat alone on a bench, sipping on a bottle of water as fans and players celebrated on the field. From time to time someone would walk up to congratulate him.
“I’m happy for our kids, the school and community. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come very often,” he says.
It’s been 22 years since BEA last played in the Metrodome. That’s when Kuechenmeister was an assistant coach.
On Saturday, Nov. 17, the Bucs (11-0) face No. 5-ranked Perham (10-1) at 4:30 p.m. in the semifinals. The Yellowjackets made it to the Dome with a 42-8 win over Esko.
Senior linebacker/running back Carter Hanson recovered two fumbles in the fourth quarter and put the game away with a 16-yard touchdown run with 3:31 left in the final quarter.
“Making it to the Dome is something you dream about when you are a kid. I finally made it,” says Hanson.
Before that, the Bucs hung on to a two-point lead.
David Franta’s 8-yard TD run with 3:30 left in the third quarter and Felix Harseim’s PAT put BEA ahead 14-12.
The Crusaders answered, driving from their 36 to the Bucs 6-yard line on a 22-yard gallop from Jackson Goplen to end the quarter.
To start the final 12 minutes of play, Goplen spun to inside the 1 to make it second-and-goal.
Hanson and Greg Claeys teamed up to stop Crusader running back Trever Koester at the 1, and Claeys dropped Goplen short of the goal line on third down.
“I was telling the guys, ‘Bend, but don’t break,'” says Hanson. “We had to step it up in that situation.”
BEA took over on downs when Hanson, Claeys and the rest of the Buc defense tackled Goplen at the goal line with 10:05 remaining in the game.
“It was unbelievable. The defensive stand was a real momentum switcher,” says Kuechenmeister.
“I can’t say enough about their effort. They’re an offensive machine and to hold them was an awesome accomplishment,” he adds.
The Bucs weren’t able to move the ball, as the Crusader defense toughened to force a punt.
Dan Mackenthun returned the kick 16 yards to BEA’s 29.
After three incompletions, Hockmuth on fourth-and-10 tossed a pass along the Crusaders’ sideline, but 6-foot-4 safety Isaac Darrington leaped high for an interception and returned it to the Bucs’ 30-yard line.
St. Croix’s defense again held, forcing a punt and taking over at their 37 with 5:49 remaining on the clock.
On second down, Hanson gobbled up a St. Croix pitchout at their 32 with just over 5 minutes left in the game. Hanson gained three yards before Gus Phillips picked up 14 yards on two carries to set up the game-clinching touchdown
“I’ve been mainly a blocking back all year, so it’s nice to get one (TD),” says Hanson.
The Crusaders, however, weren’t finished and had one last chance.
St. Croix started at their 20, gained 15 yards on the first play and two plays later a 26-yard pass to receiver Cody Sticha had the ball on BEA’s 36-yard line.
After two incomplete passes, linebackers Kysten Zierke and Justin Ritter teamed up to cause a fumble with 2:29 left that was recovered by Hanson.
“We pride ourselves on our defense. When you keep a team like that to 12 points, it’s something to be proud of,” says Hanson. “We played discipline football, stuck to our assignments and got the job done.”
The game featured a Buc defense that led all Class AAA teams in allowing just under 10 points a game and a high-powered Crusader offense averaging 46 points a game.
St. Croix struck first when Hockmuth scampered 42 yards into the endzone with 1:13 left in the opening quarter, but the attempt for the extra point was no good.
The Bucs led 7-6 at halftime, on Phillips’ 70-yard tip-toe TD?run along BEA’s sideline at the 6:45 mark in the second quarter and Harseim’s PAT kick.
In the third quarter, the Crusaders took a 12-7 lead on Mackenthun’s 51-yard run, but the two-point conversion was unsuccessful with 7:06 remaining.
BEA took the lead for good on Franta’s TD run and Harseim’s PAT.
“When they scored and we came back to take the lead, I thought that was big,” says Kuechenmeister.
Many of the stats favored St. Croix Lutheran over BEA.
The Crusaders ran 58 plays to the Bucs 48, had 353 total yards of offense to the Bucs 305 and made 14 first downs to BEA’s 10. Time of possession also favored St. Croix Lutheran, 25:18 to 22:42.
Of course the most important stat, the score, was all Blue Earth Area.
One place the Bucs outdid the Crusaders was in yards rushing.
BEA had 216 yards on 35 carries, while St. Croix Lutheran earned 177 yards on 43 carries.
The Bucs spread the ball around nearly evenly to its talented ground gainers.
Phillips led with 91 yards on nine carries. Zierke also had nine carries for 57 yards. Hanson was at eight carries and tallied 38 yards. Franta was at 30 yards, also with nine totes.
Zierke was 5 of 13 passing for 89 yards, with no interceptions or touchdowns.
The Crusaders two quarterbacks were 7 of 15 for 176 yards with one interception and one touchdown.
Darrington had two receptions for 45 yards, Hanson two for 20 yards and Franta one for 24.
On defense, the Buccaneers were led by Greg Claeys who had 11 tackles. Hanson added 10 for the Bucs and had two fumble recoveries as well. Micah Twedt added eight tackles and Bailey Olson seven.
Darrington had the one Buc interception.