By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
So much for the rebuilding year.
After a feeling-out process in the first quarter, Blue Earth Area took control of its Class AAA state championship football game against Rochester Lourdes on Saturday and rolled to a 30-7 Prep Bowl triumph at the Metrodome.
It is the first football title for the Bucs, who entered the game ranked second behind top-ranked Lourdes. BEA’s tremendous defensive effort held Rochester’s vaunted option attack to 58 net yards. The Eagles had minus-26 yards rushing in the second half.
The Bucs had graduated most of their interior linemen from last year, including two Division I players, but didn’t let that hold them back. The returning players went to work lifting weights and came back poised for a successful season.
“It’s just guys making plays,” Blue Earth area senior defensive lineman Micah Twedt said. “We set our mind to winning as many individual battles as we could today and it worked out for us.”
Fellow lineman Brad More, also a senior, agreed: “We just had the want-to today. We made some big plays and pulled away in the second half.”
Junior linebacker Gus Phillips may have had the biggest game of anybody, blocking two kicks and recording five tackles for loss, including three quarterback sacks. The blocked kicks were key as the first pinned the Eagles back deep in their own territory and the second was eventually turned into a touchdown pass.
Phillips first block occurred late in the first quarter as he swooped in and batted away a field-goal attempt by Michael Brandt.
The second came in the third quarter with BEA holding a 16-7 lead. Phillips raced in on a punt attempt by Tim Vassallo and got both hands on the ball. More recovered it on the Lourdes’ 14-yard line.
Two plays later, BEA quarterback Kysten Zierke threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Darrington in the right side of the end zone, enabling the Bucs to extend their lead to 23-7.
“He’s a speed guy, he got great penetration and just used his athleticism to make those plays,” BEA head coach Randy Kuechenmeister said of Phillips. “You work on special teams all year and it’s great to see that payoff in a game like this.”
Phillips, who transferred in from Le Center over the summer when his dad took a supervisor’s job at Seneca Foods, said he wasn’t sure what to expect when he landed in Blue Earth.
“It was a new school and I had to make new friends but it worked out great,” he said. “I’d say this was the best defensive game of my career.”
Junior running back David Franta’s 79-yard sprint down the left sideline gave the Bucs the early lead with 3:12 to go in the second quarter. Lourdes countered right away as Griff Slightam broke free down the middle for a 67-yard scoring run and the game was tied at 7 with 2:52 left in the half.
Blue Earth Area went ahead for good just before intermission as it went on a methodical nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Darrington’s 6-yard reception from Zierke. The score put BEA up 13-7 at the break.
The second half was all Blue Earth Area as Felix Harseim kicked a 36-yard field goal, Darrington caught his second TD pass and Franta found the end zone from 5 yards out.
The Bucs’ dominant defense ended up with 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for minus-50 yards. Carter Hanson had two of those stops while Franta, More, Jacob Johnson and Steven Plocker had one apiece.
Franta led Blue Earth Area in rushing with 144 yards and two TD’s on 13 carries. The Bucs close out the season undefeated at 13-0. Lourdes ends with a 13-1 record.
“(Winning a state championship is) a goal you strive for all year and when it finally happens it’s unbelievable,” More said. “There’s no better way to end your high school career.”