In a matchup of two of the top teams in Minnesota Class 9-man football in this decade, the No. 2 seeded Grand Meadow Superlarks rallied back from a 14-9 halftime deficit to defeat the No. 3 seeded Spring Grove Lions 24-14 in the Section 1 9-man semi-finals in Grand Meadow Saturday evening.
Each team was forced to punt after their initial drives, and it was Spring Grove starting from their own 8-yard line on their second drive of the game after Caden Grinde fielded the punt at the eight, but his knee was on the ground while doing so. On the third play of the drive, the Superlark defense made the first big play of the game as Lion quarterback Chandler Bergrud was sacked just inside the goal line, and after a quick discussion, the officials ruled the play a safety to give Grand Meadow a 2-0 lead.
After the ensuing free kick, the Superlarks had great field position at the Spring Grove 43. Grand Meadow moved the ball smartly down the field on the ground and on the fourth play of the drive, fullback Nolan Skifter took a handoff from quarterback Evan Oehlke and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Larks a 9-0 lead after Oehlke’s extra point.
Things went from bad to worse for Spring Grove on the ensuing drive as starting from their own 17, a fumble on the second play of the drive was recovered by Grand Meadow, giving the Superlarks the ball at the Lion 16. Here the Lions defense stood tall and started to swing momentum Spring Grove’s way as they forced a turnover on downs and took possession on their 14.
Spring Grove’s offense took the momentum given to them by their defense and went on an eight-play, 86-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 26-yard touchdown pass from Bergrud to tight end Kyle Hagen to cut Grand Meadow’s lead to 9-7 after Isaac Griffin’s extra point.
Each team was forced into a three-and-out on their ensuing drives, and after a 47-yard punt by Caden Grinde, the Superlarks took over late in the 2nd quarter on their own 37. Grand Meadow was forced to punt after three plays, and on fourth down, the snap to punter Dusty Copley was low and skipped through his legs back to the 25-yard line. Copley was able to run the ball back to the 35, but Spring Grove had excellent field position and took advantage when on the second play of the enusing drive, Bergrud hit Grinde with a 34-yard pass to the Superlark 1-yard line. After two runs were stopped, it was Bergrud finding Grinde again in the front left corner of the end zone as Grinde made a diving catch to put Spring Grove ahead 14-9 after the extra point.
Grand Meadow was able to avert disaster as a fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave the ball right back to Spring Grove at the Superlark 29. The Lions, who were out of timeouts were turned away though, when Blake Ludemann knocked down a desparation heave at the goal line on the last play of the half to keep the score at 14-9 headed into halftime.
The Superlarks started with the ball in the 2nd half, and their play-action pass game started to click on that first drive when Oehlke found tight end Ben Kraft on a 20-yard fade pass to move the ball into Spring Grove territory. The Lions defense held firm, however as they forced a turnover on downs at their 21.
The Lions were forced into a three-and-out, but again stopped the next Grand Meadow drive on downs and took over at their 38. Spring Grove then mounted a drive that took them inside the Superlark 20, but in a key turning point in the game, Lion quarterback Isaac Griffin, who took over for a time for Chandler Bergrud took the ball outside to the left on an option and pitched to running back Mitchell Reynolds, who couldn’t handle the pitch and his fumble was recovered by the Superlarks at their 17.
Grand Meadow firmly took back momentum in the game on the first play of the drive when Oehlke went back on a play-action pass and floated a perfect strike to Ludemann, who sprinted 53 yards to the Spring Grove 26-yard line. The Superlark ground game took over from there and on the sixth play of the drive, Copley took a pitch to the right side and sprinted four yards into the end zone to put Grand Meadow back in front 17-14 after Oehlke’s two-point conversion run.
Grand Meadow’s defense continued to dominate as they forced a three-and-out to give the ball back to their offense at the Superlark 37 after a 53-yard punt by Grinde. Another play-action pass from Oehlke to tight end Taylor Glynn moved the ball quickly into Spring Grove territory, and the Superlarks’ ground game for the second drive in a row took it from there as they grounded out yards and ran down the clock, but near disaster struck when the ball was fumbled at the Lion 14 on the sixth play of the drive. The Superlarks were able to recover the fumble and three plays later, running back Daniel Smith took it into the end zone from the 4-yard line to give Grand Meadow a 24-14 lead after Oehlke’s extra point.
Spring Grove started a last-gasp effort from their own 31, but after picking up a first down on the first play, a fourth-down pass from Bergrud to Griffin was incomplete, giving Grand Meadow the ball at the Lion 40. Oehlke only had to take a knee once to run the last 40 seconds off the clock to give the Larks the win.
Grand Meadow sacked Spring Grove quarterbacks five times, and did not give up a sack for the entire game. The Superlarks tallied 12 first downs to 10 for the Lions, and Spring Grove was penalized four times for 35 yards, all in the first half. Grand Meadow was not penalized the entire game. Spring Grove committed two turnovers in the game, which were convered into seven points by Grand Meadow, while the one turnover on the Superlarks at the very tail end of the first half was not converted into any points by the Lions.
With the win, Grand Meadow moves to 9-1 on the season and they will play No. 5 seeded Houston for the Section 1 9-man title next Friday in Rochester, at a site yet to be determined. The Hurricanes’ offense has caught fire in the playoffs as they defeated No. 4 seeded Southland Tuesday night 46-18, and No. 1 seeded and the number two team in the state, the LeRoy/Ostrander Cardinals Saturday night 44-18.