Tigers too little, too late
Morris/CA spirited second-half effort not enough against Eden Valley-Watkins
NEW LONDON — Facing a five-score deficit at halftime during its Section 5AA semifinal against Eden Valley-Watkins, Morris/Chokio-Alberta was far and away the better team on the field during the second half.
It wasn’t as if the Eagles pulled their starters, as the Tigers, particularly their defense, dominated throughout third quarter and through much of the fourth.
While MCA, the No. 3 seed, made matters interesting, it was not enough, as No. 2 seed Eden Valley-Watkins collected a 40-21 victory Saturday from Pederson Field.
With victory, the Eagles (6-3) will face top-seeded Paynesville in the section final Friday at 5:30 p.m. from St. John’s University.
“The kids played really good,” EV-W head coach Adam Tri said. “We played really great the first half. The second half, a couple of things got away from us. Nothing to take away from Morris, they’re a good ball club. ... Morris played well, but we were able to execute just enough.”
Forcing a punt on the Eagles’ first possession of the second half, the road team on the scoreboard made its first appearance in the scoring column when junior wide receiver Kenny Soderberg hauled in a 15-yard pass from junior quarterback Zach Bruns.
On the Tigers’ next defensive possession, Jacob Boots made a terrific play in coverage. Backpedaling to the middle of the field, the junior linebacker stepped in front of a slant pattern, made a two-handed snag on a ball that was thrown behind and took it 34 yards to the house, cutting the deficit to 33-14.
The interception may have been the team’s defensive highlight of the day, but what was critical in Morris/CA’s second-half rally was how the defensive linemen and linebackers were able to limit any big plays.
The coaching staff made a subtle change following the first quarter. Adjusting its pre-snap look, the defensive front did a much better handling jet sweeps and runs up the middle. The adjustment paid major dividends as the defense stopped Eden Valley-Watkins twice on fourth down and allowed just one first down during the first 18 minutes of the second half.
“That made a huge difference, but other than that, it was all effort and attitude,” Morris/CA head coach Kevin Pope said. “The kids did a great job playing hard and really just believing that we had a good shot at it. Just came up short.
“I put it on the seniors at halftime. I asked them how they wanted to start instead of how they wanted to finish, because we didn’t start the game real well, so I wanted to find out what they were going to do to start it. The seniors, they’ve had great character all year and they did a great job of getting us going and ready to start the second half.”
With momentum shifted toward their side, the Tigers had a couple of possessions they would want back.
Starting their second offensive drive of the third quarter inside opponent territory, the Tigers (6-4) committed one of their five giveaways. Durgin Decker had first-down yardage on a carry to the outside, but the ball popped out before his knee touched the ground. Then after getting the ball back again on the Eagles’ side of the field following a turnover-on-downs, the Tigers threw four straight incompletions to hand the ball back.
Morris/CA scored its final touchdown with 6 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the fourth. Bruns found running back Jack Riley wide open on a dump-off pass. Playing in his final game for the Tigers, the senior sprinted down the sidelines and eluded defenders for a 58-yard touchdown reception.
“I looked back to Zach and I was open,” Riley said. “I caught the ball and Kenny made a great block and I just kept running, that’s about it.
“We’re just a team that doesn’t give up and we just don’t know how to quit. We just keep going, doing our thing.”
Eden Valley-Watkins finally broke through late in the fourth quarter when sophomore wide receiver Gavin Watkins took a jet sweep 32 yards into the endzone to seal the victory.
On a day when wind gusts were upwards to 30 miles per hour, the higher-seeded team elected to play with the wind at their backs in the first quarter. The Eagles took advantage with 20 points in the first quarter. Senior quarterback Luke Jansen tossed two scores while senior running back Mason Molitor punched in a 1-yard run.
Jansen added another 1-yard score early in the second quarter before connecting with 6-foot-7 junior wide receiver Josh Streit on a 13-yard fade pattern, extending the Eagles lead to 33-0 with 16 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
“The wind played a pretty big factor in the first half. They had the wind at their back in the first quarter and that really played a bigger part than what I really would’ve imagined,” Pope said. “They made some good plays. They found a couple of spots where they could take advantage of some of their height on the outside and made a couple of good passes to a couple of their receivers that we didn’t match up real well with, at least not early. That was a big thing, them taking advantage of the weather and their height.”
EVW 40, Morris/CA 21
Morris/CA (6-4) 0 0 14 7 — 21
EVW (6-3) 20 13 0 7 — 40
E – Josh Streit 23 pass from Luke Jansen (run failed)
E – Mason Molitor 1 run (Carson Geslinger pass from Jansen)
E – Geslinger 38 pass from Jansen (pass failed)
E – Jansen 1 run (Geslinger kick)
E – Streit 13 pass from Luke Jansen (kick failed)
M – Kenny Soderberg 15 pass from Zach Bruns (Eli Grove kick)
M – Jacob Boots 34 interception return (Grove kick)
M – Jack Riley 58 pass from Bruns (Grove kick)
E – Gavin Mathies 32 run (#16 kick)
First downs: 9 … Penalties: 6-40 … Rushing (Individual and team): Durgin Decker 5-73, Bruns 9-18, Tristan Raths 3-7, Soderberg 2-5, Jack Riley 1-4. 20-107 … Passing (Individual and team): Bruns 10-29-168-2, Eli Grove 0-1-0-0. 10-30-168 ... Receiving (Individual and team): 10-168 … Interceptions: Jacob Boots 1 … Fumble recoveries: None … Tackles (solo-assist): N/A … QB sacks: None
First downs: 22 … Penalties: 3-15 … Rushing (Individual and team): 51-194 … Passing (Individual and team): 16-22-171-1 ... Receiving (Individual and team): 16-171 … Interceptions: Geslinger 1, Michael Bautch 1 … Fumble recoveries: Three … Tackles (solo-assist): N/A … QB sacks: None