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Jake Essler, left, of New London-Spicer is forced out of bounds by Alex Peterson of Kasson-Mantorville after a short gain in the fourth quarter Saturday at the Metrodome in a Class AAA semifinal game. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

NLS advances to title game

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The New London-Spicer football team is right where they planned all along -- in the state championship game.

"We've been dreaming about this since seventh grade when a bunch of us would come down here to watch the games in the Dome," said senior running back Jake Essler.

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The Wildcats reserved a date with three-time defending champion Glencoe-Silver Lake in the Prep Bowl XVIII Class AAA title game with unexpected ease after a 34-14 victory over previously undefeated Kasson-Mantorville Saturday on Mall of America Field.

The Wildcats (13-0) led 20-0 at halftime while allowing the KoMets (12-1) just two first downs over the first 24 minutes. It was 34-0 with under a minute left in the third quarter when the high-scoring Komets' offense finally gained some traction to score the first of two touchdowns in a surge of desperation.

John Nething, a senior linebacker for NLS, wasn't surprised by the lopsided victory.

"I really thought our team was good enough," said Nething. "Everyone runs the spread in their conference so they weren't used to seeing power football."

The Hiawatha Valley Conference champions came in averaging 342 yards and five TDs per game. The Wildcats' defense allowed them 187 yards; nearly all of those after the game was well in hand.

"We couldn't get our run going," explained KoMets' head coach Ivan Kroulik. "NLS is a heckuva of football team. They're athletic and have size and they made the plays. We didn't."

The first big play came from the Wildcats' defense. James Peterson was punting from the K-M 12-yard line on the KoMets' second possession. The Wildcats' 6-foot-6 defensive end Justin Zylstra broke through from the left side and knocked the punt down. Cornerback Erik Tengwall scooped the ball and galloped four yards to score.

"We had the (the punt block) on," said Tengwall. "Justin got there. He did all the work. All the credit to him."

It was Tengwall's third defensive touchdown of the season, with the other two coming on long interception returns.

It was 6-0 after one quarter. NLS junior quarterback Jayme Moten threw 37 yards over the middle to a wide-open Essler to make it 12-0 with 4:57 left in the half, capping a 10 play drive. The defense stuffed the KoMets again and after a 28-yard punt started at the K-M 43.

After one first down, the Wildcats struck again. This time senior running back Luke Peterson, a quarterback through ninth grade, threw a perfect pass to Moten in the clear along the sideline for a touchdown covering 33 yards. Moten then threw to Tengwall for the two-point conversion and a stunning 20-0 lead at intermission.

The KoMets' offense had netted four yards rushing and three passing in two quarters.

The second half started no better for a program that was making its eighth state tournament appearance compared to the Wildcats' second.

Senior running back and kick returner Derek Henle, the only returning starter on offense, took the second-half kickoff and returned it 91 yards to the KoMets one-yard line. Moten followed senior center Joey Sisser into the end zone and a 27-0 lead with 18 seconds gone.

"That was the back breaker," said Kroulik.

At 1:50 of the third quarter, Moten returned the favor to Peterson, hitting the him with a four-yard TD pass and a 34-0 bulge. That followed a short 34-yard drive set up by Essler's 15-yard punt return.

Senior Linebacker Kevin Soine intercepted a Bryan Ripley pass before the third period ended.

The Komets and their noisy followers, which outnumbered the Wildcats' delegation, never gave in despite the overwhelming deficit. Ripley would score twice on keepers, but Essler knocked down a fourth-down end zone pass by Ripley with 6:40 left in the game to douse the Komets' last embers of hope.

Essler, who had missed most of the section final win over Albany and played mainly defense in the quarterfinals due to a concussion, rushed for 54 yards in 16 carries and caught three passes for 47 yards. Moten was 9 of 14 for 92 yards.

NLS didn't have a turnover and sacked Ripley four times. Senior defensive tackle Tom Duscher had a sack and four tackles-for-loss among seven tackles.

On the minus side, the Wildcats' were saddled with 17 penalties for 143 yards.

"This is awesome," said two-way starter Aaron Wenztlaff, the senior left guard on an offense rebuilt from scratch after NLS lost in last year's quarterfinals.

"If we play like we did the first half tonight, we'll do just find against GSL," he said.

N 34, K-Mantorville 14

Kasson-Mantorville 0 0 7 7 -- 14

NL-Spicer 6 14 14 0 -- 34

NLS - Erik Tengwall 4 return blocked punt (pass fail)

NLS - Jake Essler 37 pass from Jayme Moten (pass fail))

NLS - Moten 33 pass from Luke Peterson (Tengwall pass from Moten)

NLS - Moten 1 run (Kevin Soine kick)

NLS - Peterson 4 pass from Moten (Soine kick)

KM - Bryan Ripley 1 run (Chris Paradise kick)

KM - Ripley 4 run (Paradise kick)

Kasson-Mantorville

Team statistics

First downs: 14 ... Rushing: 27-32 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 12-25-155-1... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 11-98

Individual statistics

Rushing: Cameron Ruehmann 9-21, Alex Peterson 3-19, Chris Paradise 1-4, Bryan Ripley 14-(-12) ... Passing: Ripley 12-25-155-1 ... Receiving: James Peterson 4-31, Drew Wohlfiel 3-42, Jake Hodge 1-34, Ryan Trowbridge 1-21, Chris Paradise 1-19, Shane McWhirter 1-13, Ruehmann 1-(-5) ... Punting: J. Peterson 6-28.5 ... Interceptions: none ... Fumble recoveries: none ... Tackles: Alex Peterson 12, Shane McWhirter 6, Drew Wohlfiel 4, Charlie Snyder 5 ... QB sacks: Snyder 1

New London-Spicer

Team statistics

First downs: 13 ... Rushing: 40-82 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 10-15-125-0 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 17-143

Individual statistics

Rushing: Jake Essler 16-54, Sam Schmid 5-14, Luke Peterson 4-7, Derek Henle 2-6, John Nething 2-3, Jayme Moten 9-(-2) ... Passing: Moten 9-14-92-0, Peterson 1-1-33-0 ... Receiving: Essler 3-47, Aaron Jenny 2-17, Moten 1-33, Brandon Zylstra 1-14, Erik Tengwall 1-7, Peterson 1-4, Nething 1-3 ... Punting: Kevin Soine 4-33.8 ... Interceptions: Soine 1 ... Fumble recoveries: none ... Tackles: Tom Duscher 7, Justin Zylstra 6, John Nething 4, Erik Tengwall 3, Aaron Wentzlaff 3, Shawn Hatlestad 3, Luke Peterson 3, Kevin Soine 3, Matt Melbie 2, Aaron Johnson 2 ... QB sacks: Duscher 1, J. Zylstra 2, Johnson 1

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Rand Middleton

Covers Willmar and area high schools and Ridgewater College, plus amateur baseball, stock car racing and fitness events in summer. Writes weekly column since 1980. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 

(320) 214-4334
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