NLS heading back to state
ST. CLOUD - The New London-Spicer Wildcats are back in state.
For the second time, they did it by beating the renowned Albany Huskies, who have been to state 18 times.
This time it was a thrilling 20-18 victory in the Section 6AAA final on Friday.
"It feels better because it was so close," said NLS senior John Nething when asked to compare the consecutive titles. "It came down to defense and making big plays."
The outcome was in doubt until the final seconds.
Albany drove 77 yards in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter to score on a pass play to tight end Zach Noreen with 16 seconds left.
Albany's Adam Harlander dropped back to pass for the two-point conversion but Matt Melbie was on him immediately. He rushed his pass over the middle and Nething picked it off.
The win puts them in the Class AAA quarterfinal against Minneapolis North at 3 p.m. next Saturday, also on the St. Cloud State University campus.
The Wildcats made an early statement. After a Kevin Soine punt pinned the Huskies at their own two-yard-line, Nething and cornerback Erik Tengwall nailed running back Sam Conrad behind the end line for a safety. It was Albany's first play from scrimmage.
Albany rebounded by taking advantage of an New London-Spicer fumble on an exchange 16 yards from the end zone. Four plays later quarterback Adam Harlander burrowed into the end zone from the one-yard line. The run on the two-point conversion was stopped.
Late in the first quarter, New London-Spicer began a 76-yard march spanning the quarter break. With Jake Essler, the Wildcats' leading ballcarrier, on the sidelines after taking a shot to the head, Luke Peterson and Derek Henle picked up the slack. Henle busted off a 17-yard run and Peterson earned 21 yards in four carries, including the last five.
The Wildcats drove 70 yards the next time with the ball. Quarterback Jayme Moten sprang a 17-yard keeper, Aaron Jenny caught a short pass and shed numerous tacklers for 27-yard gain to the Albany 42. Peterson's 25-yard run got it to the two-yard line and two plays later Moten went in from the one-yard line to conclude the 14-play drive.
That was good for a 14-6 lead at intermission.
Albany pulled to within two, 14-12, on a 20-yard dash by their 230-pound fullback B.J. Bueckers in the third quarter.
The Huskies were driving for the go-ahead score with under 10 minutes left when Jon Atkinson was separated from the ball and Tengwall recovered at the Wildcats' 35.
Then in a clock-draining drive, the Wildcats drove the distance to the end zone. Fullback Sam Schmid busted off right tackle for seven yards to the two-yard line. On third down, Moten pushed his way to the end zone but Kevin Soine's extra-point boot missed again and Albany still had a chance with 2:02 left and the New London-Spicer lead at 20-12.
The game had all the drama last year's section final lacked, a 30-0 New London-Spicer win on Halloween evening. That earned the school's first trip to the state tournament in football.
Albany's late drive was fueled by Harlander pass completions of 40 yards to Sam Conrad and 18 yards to Noreen.
"After we lost to DeLaSalle (in the state semifinals last year), we all decided we wanted to get back to the Metrodome and the championship game this time," said Peterson. "We've all been working towards that goal."
New London-Spicer also won the West Central North meeting earlier 14-2. New London-Spicer is now 11-0 and Albany finished 9-2 and 19-3 over the last two years, losing only to New London-Spicer.
Complete statistics were not available.
NL-Spicer 20, Albany 18
Albany 6 0 6 6 -- 18
NLS 2 12 0 6 -- 20
NLS - Safety. Albany runner tackled in end zone
Alb - Adam Harlander 1 run (run failed)
NLS - Luke Peterson 5 run (kick failed)
NLS - Jayme Moten 1 run (kick failed)
Alb - B.J. Bueckers 20 run (run failed)
NLS - Moten 1 run (Kevin Soine kick)
Alb - Zach Noreen 7 pass from Harlander (pass failed)