ST. CLOUD -- The ACGC football team held the ball twice as long, ran twice as many plays and gained twice as many yards.
And yet it took an improbable fourth down conversion and an improvised play call in the final 30 seconds of the game for the Falcons to turn back BBE 6-0 in the Section 4A championship game Saturday at Huskies Field.
After having a 36-yard field goal erased by a penalty with about a minute left in the game, ACGC was facing fourth-and-22 from the Jaguars' 29 yard line. With overtime seemingly imminent, Falcons quarterback Dylan Hoerchler lobbed a pass to the left goaline pylon and back Taylor Larson outjumped a BBE defender to make the catch, coming down on the one yard line with 55 seconds remaining. Two plays later, Jordan Nelson dove into the end zone from two yards out for the winning touchdown. Lacking time and timeouts, Hoerchler couldn't consult with coaches and called the run play in the huddle.
"That was one of the best things there ever was," Nelson said.
Now, it gets even better. The Falcons (8-2), who extended their winning streak to five games, will play Section 3A champ St. Clair (9-2) in the first round of the Class A state tournament at 7 p.m. Friday at Southwest Minnesota State.
Saturday's 4A title game belonged to the defenses, ACGC's for allowing the Jaguars offense next to nothing and BBE's for resiliency, twice turning back the Falcons twice on fourth-down plays deep in their own end in the second half.
BBE ran just 34 offensive plays and managed 123 total yards. ACGC ran 63 plays for 262 yards. The Jaguars had the ball just more than 17 minutes while the Falcons controlled it almost 31 of the game's 48 minutes.
"We were our own worst enemy a lot of times," ACGC coach Terry Karlsgodt said. "We had numerous motion and holding penalties that kept setting us back every time we'd get something going."
A great punting and coverage game pinned ACGC deep in its own end most of the first half, but the Falcons turned those tables after halftime and kept pressing the action. BBE's defense held up well, stoning the Falcons on a fourth-and-one at the Jags' five yard line on the opening drive of the second half and later stopping the Falcons on a fourth down in the red zone.
"That was a key drive," Karlsgodt said of the opening drive, even though it didn't result in points. "We were making first downs in the second half and we kept field position going. I knew we were not going to lose that the way our defense was playing. They played fantastic."
A Hoerchler punt return set up the Falcons deep in the BBE end, and while the Jaguar defense and penalties threatened this attempt, too, ACGC did get within range of kicker Lucas Damm. He lined up a 36-yard field goal with 1:08 to play and his kick cleared the crossbar but the Falcons were flagged for a five-yard penalty. With a 41-yard field goal likely out of range, the Falcons decided to heave one up on fourth-and-22.
"We wanted to throw a fade," Hoerchler said. "Get it in the area and let (Larson) go up and get it."
"I just got in front of (the defender) and jumped," Larson said. "It was really a nice pass."
After another penalty, Hoerchler ran a roll-out pass play but kept and ran to the two yard line. ACGC didn't have any timeouts, there were about 30 seconds to play and Hoerchler didn't want to risk a run to the sidelines for a play.
"Some guys were saying, 'We're running the same play again, we're running the same play,' " Hoerchler said. "But I couldn't tell what the coaches wanted so I called (42 power). We ran our bread-and-butter."
Nelson took the handoff right, cut back to the middle behind blocks and dove in for the touchdown.
"That's why we pay him the big bucks," a smiling Karlsgodt said of Hoerchler's call. "He's the quarterback."
On its final possession, with just 20 seconds and no timeouts left, BBE quarterback Brian Goodwin hit James Kuefler for a 47-yard gain, but Larson forced a fumble and the Falcons recovered on their 17 yard line.
"You have to give it to them," Nelson said of BBE and its late-season run to the championship game following the recent death of Jaguars wrestling coach Rich Vos. "They played their hearts out. After what happened over there, you have to take your hats off to them."
Section 4A championship
ACGC 6, BBE 0
BBE (6-5) 0 0 0 0 -- 0
ACGC (8-2) 0 0 0 6 -- 6
A -- Jordan Nelson 2 run (kick failed)
First downs: 3 ... Rushing: 26-76 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 3-8-47-1 ... Fumbles lost: 1 ... Penalties: 5-41
Rushing: Austin Kollman 7-28, Jordan Wosmek 9-26, Brian Goodwin 5-11, Patrick Rooney 5-11 ... Passing: Goodwin 3-8-47-1 ... Receiving: James Kuefler 1-47, Tyler Tensen 1-3, Rooney 1-(-3) ... Punting: Trey Heinsius 8-31.8 ... Interceptions: Goodwin 1 ... Fumble recoveries: 0 ... Tackles (solo-assist): Heinsius 1-0, Goodwin 3-4, Wosmek 2-9, Rooney 3-13, Ross Rath 2-4, Kuefler 0-4, David Rodgers 0-4, Kollman 3-12, Tommy Cebulla 1-8, Tristan Fadness 0-2, Jackson Gregory 1-1, James Boogaard 2-4, Michael Syverson 0-2, Brendon Loch 2-8 ... QB sacks: None
First downs: 12 ... Rushing: 51-164 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 5-12-98-1 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 7-59
Rushing: Jordan Nelson 13-40, Dylan Hoerchler 11-40, Taylor Larson 6-27, Larry Bomstad 7-26, Alex Pankratz 5-17, Maverick Whitcomb 5-12, Mitchel Macik 2-4 ... Passing: Hoerchler 5-11-98-0, Larson 0-1-0-1 ... Receiving: Larson 2-59, Lee Whitcomb 2-22, Macik 1-17 ... Punting: Nelson 5-33.0 ... Interceptions: Larson 1 ... Fumble recoveries: 0 ... Tackles (solo-assist): NA ... QB sacks: NA