MINNEAPOLIS -- There's a whole lot to celebrate this morning on Front Street in Sunburg and along U.S. Highway 12 where it flows west through first Kerkhoven and then Murdock.
The KMS Fighting Saints are state champions after slipping by Royalton 33-22 on Friday afternoon for the Class A title.
"This is something you dream about since you're a little kid on the playground," said senior captain Taylor Freetly, as he carried the championship trophy toward the team's dressing room at the Metrodome.
It's the first team trophy for KMS in MSHSL athletics. Neither the Murdock Irish nor the Kerkhoven Eagles ever got one either, though the Eagles reached the state semifinal round in 1974.
The two foes from the Prairie South Conference put on quite a show for those in the stadium and at home watching on television.
KMS rolled up 417 yards, while the Royals ran up 321 yards.
The Saints' junior workhorse Joel Bauman rushed a Prep Bowl-record 44 times. He piled up 307 yards but the Royals' defense nailed him for 18 negative yards so his official yardage was 289 yards.
Senior quarterback Kevin Steinhaus played a flawless game. He connected on all six of his passing attempts, including touchdown heaves of 39 yards to Aaron Zimmer in the third quarter and 36 yards to Mitch Hagen to give the Saints a 33-22 lead with 9:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But it was the KMS defense that salted it away to help avenge a 22-7 loss at Royalton in October.
Three times in the second half, the Royals (12-2) were denied after reaching the red zone. They had first and goal at the KMS 10 with 8:00 left in regulation, but Chris DiSanto tackled Robbie Segler for a four-yard loss and then Brad Kneisl sacked quarterback Shawn Lanners for a 10-yard loss. After that, a pass went incomplete.
"We just got stronger in the fourth quarter," said two-way lineman Adam Wentzel. "We just shut them down and you could tell they were getting frustrated."
Head coach James Cortez told assistant coach Jay Tornquist before the game that Royalton would need more than 22 points to win this time.
"I figured if we didn't let them score more than three times we'd win," said Cortez.
KMS (12-2) changed its blocking scheme to unclog the running game which had been blunted by the Royals in the first meeting.
"The first time we were pulling a guard and their middle linebacker (Ryan Wiener) was shooting the gap getting into the backfield before the play could develop," explained Freetly, a tight end. "This time we blocked down and kept the guard in."
Royalton marched the opening kickoff 73 yards with Shawn Lanners throwing to his brother, Zach, a sophomore, 12 yards for the score.
KMS stalled and Freetly punted. Royalton quickly picked up a first down, but Freetly knocked the ball loose from Wiener, also the Royals' fullback, and Zimmer recovered at the 30.
Bauman carried four straight times, and then on the seventh play, went the last nine to the end zone. Andres Rojas' kick gave KMS a 7-6 lead.
In the second period, Bauman carried 11 straight times in a 14-play, 72-yard march with fullback Hagen covering the final three behind a strong push from the offensive line.
The Royals came right back with a 63-yard drive in only two plays, Zach Lanners breaking free for a 43 yard score.
It was 14-14 at halftime but the Royals would breach the KMS goal line just once in the final 24 minutes while the Saints would score three times -- all on big-yardage plays.
The most dazzling was the Steinhaus throw to Zimmer down the middle of the field. The line gave their quarterback time and the throw was on the money just before Zimmer stepped into the end zone to complete the 39-yard play.
"That was a big-time throw," marveled Cortez. "It was one of the plays we put in during the two weeks we had to think up something."
The TD peg to Hagen was another late addition to the playbook. Steinhaus rolled to his right as Zimmer and Freetly drew the coverage in the same direction. But the two-time wrestling state champion stopped and hit Hagen at the 10 and he strolled in to complete a 36-yard hook-up.
Those were bookends to a 67-yard scoring run on another toss sweep to Bauman. He shed several Royals tacklers along the way to put the Saints up 27-14 in the third.
Bauman finishes the year with 2,941 yards (31 TDs). Of those, 1,674 yards came in the Saints' six postseason wins. He will start his senior year with 6,101 yards already in the bank.
KMS, which started the season ranked No. 1 but fell out of favor with the pollsters after two straight losses at mid-season, is the first champion from the Tribune area since Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in Class AA in 2001.
"I'm so proud and elated for the kids," said Cortez. "I know every coach says it, but they did work so hard and they deserve it."
KMS 33, Royalton 22
Royalton 6 8 8 0 -- 22
KMS 7 7 13 6 -- 33
Roy - Zack Lanners 12 pass from Shawn Lanners (pass failed)
KMS - Joel Bauman 9 run (Andres Rojas kick)
KMS - Mitch Hagen 3 run (Rojas kick)
Roy - Z. Lanners 43 run (S. Lanners run)
KMS - Aaron Zimmer 39 pass from Kevin Steinhaus (Rojas kick)
KMS - Bauman 67 run (Rojas kick)
Roy - S. Lanners 1 run (Z. Lanners pass from S. Lanners)
KMS - Hagen 36 pass from Steinhaus (pass failed)
First downs: 15 ... Rushing: 34-158 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 8-13-163-0 ... Fumbles lost: 1 ... Penalties: 3-15
Rushing: Zack Lanners 10-95, Ryan Wiener 10-51, Dan Gadacz 2-20, Robbie Segler 5-10, Shawn Lanners 7-(minus 18) ... Passing: S. Lanners 7-12-118-0, Cole Jendro 1-1-45-0 ... Receiving: Z. Lanners 4-89, B. Schlichting 3-83, Jendro 1-(minus 9) ... Punting: none ... Interceptions: none ... Fumble recoveries: none ... Tackles (total): Austin Kloss 8, Jacob Kasella 7, Z. Lanners 6, Wiener 6 ... QB sacks: none
First downs: 18 ... Rushing: 51-284 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 6-6-133-0 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 3-15
Rushing: Joel Bauman 44-289, Taylor Freetly 1-2, Mitch Hagen 3-1, Kevin Steinhaus 2-(minus 8) ... Passing: Steinhaus 6-6-133-0 ... Receiving: Hagen 3-45, Aaron Zimmer 2-60, Freetly 1-28 ... Punting: Freetly 3-19.7 ... Interceptions: none ... Fumble recoveries: Zimmer 1 ... Tackles (solo-assist): Freetly 8, Hagen 6, Zimmer 5, Jake Armstrong 4, Chris DiSanto 4, Adam Wentzel 3, Weflen 3, Lee Keil 3, Matt Stassen 1, Joey Bauman 1, Mitch Fernholz 1, Brad Kneisl 1, Steinhaus 1 ... QB sacks: Hagen 1, Weflen 1, Kneisl 1