MAYER – New district? No problem.
The Mayer Lutheran football made it three straight district titles with a 27-15 victory against their rival Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity Tuesday night. It wasn’t always easy for the Crusaders who finished with a perfect 7-0 record in district play, but they came together and fought through it for another district title.
“It shows we’re tough,” senior running back and linebacker Matthew Menth said about how they were able to come out on top in a new district. “We can play pretty much anybody. We come out and play hard the whole game. It’s a great victory. It felt amazing.”
The Crusaders and the Bulldogs were thrown into the Mid Southeast West District this season along with some teams they’ve never played against. Even though the opponents were different, the Crusaders knew what could possibly happen if they take care of business and how the schedule was set.
“I was telling the kids this at the beginning of the year,” Mayer Lutheran coach Dean Aurich said. “You know what would be perfect when I saw the schedule? If we could get down to the district championship against our rival Lester Prairie, and it happened technically. It was awesome. This district was decent, and it was a lot of fun.”
The Bulldogs were one of few teams that gave the Crusaders all they could handle this season. After forcing the Crusaders to punt on their opening drive, the Bulldogs struck first.
After a 9-yard run from Dylan Ruzicka gave the Bulldogs a first and goal, Alex Heimerl gave the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead with a 25-yard field goal to get the scoring started thanks to some costly penalties from Mayer Lutheran.
“I’m not sure what changed, but the last couple games have been rough on us,” Aurich said about the penalties. “We do have to fix that, and some of them are just jumps.”
With the offense looking putrid in the early going, the Crusaders finally got things rolling thanks to the spark of their big play guy Branden Carlson. Carlson hauled in a 35-yard pass from junior quarterback Baden Noennig, setting the Crusaders up for their first score of the game. Following the big pass, Zander Flucas punched it in from seven yards out, giving the Crusaders a 7-3 lead.
With Mayer now on top, the Bulldogs were looking for a spark of their own. They got just that as Dylan Ruzicka intercepted Noennig’s pass, setting the Bulldogs up in good field position. With the Bulldogs in the red zone, they decided to roll the dice and go for it on 4th and 3 from the Mayer Lutheran 10-yard line. The gamble paid off as Michael Ziermann found Dylan Ruzicka wide open for a 10-yard touchdown pass, and the Bulldogs reclaimed a 9-7 lead.
With just under three minutes left in the first half, the Crusaders weren’t going to be content heading to the locker room with a two-point lead. They executed the two-minute drill to perfection, going 60 yards in just eight plays, capped off with another touchdown run from Flucas. Flucas’ second touchdown of the game gave Mayer Lutheran a 13-9 lead heading into halftime.
With a four-point lead starting the third quarter, it was time for the Crusaders to get the running game going. The Bulldogs, who held Flucas to just 26 yards in the first half, lost track of him in the third quarter as he broke free for a 47-yard touchdown run to extend the Crusaders’ lead.
Just when it looked like Mayer Lutheran was about to pull away, the Bulldogs responded with a big-time drive. The Bulldogs went 78 yards on 13 plays, which was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run from Ruzicka to bring the Bulldogs within 20-15.
Menth would add 2-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth, as the Crusaders held the Bulldogs in check the rest of the way to seal the win.
“Last week was a really big disappointment,” Menth said. “We bounced back, though and used that as fuel against our rivals. We came out hot and it was a good game.”
With the win, the Crusaders likely clinched a top two seed in the Section 4A tournament. With a balanced section, Aurich and the Crusaders know how important it was to take care of business and lock up a good seed.
“Right now it looks like it’s going to Belgrade and then us second unless something changes,” Aurich said. “Then after that, there’s a few teams that we’re a little bit concerned about. K-M-S has a good defense. Lester Prairie is back in this thing, too. It’s going to be a fight to get out of it. The nice thing is we don’t have (Minneapolis) North in the top end, but you still have to play good football.”
Both Mayer Lutheran and LP/HT will know their seeds tomorrow morning (Thursday) with section play starting on Tuesday.
“I just can’t wait to get into playoffs,” Menth said. “The atmosphere is amazing. I love it. It’s going to be a blast to see how we do.”
PREP SCOREBOARD: WEEK 8
MID STATE SUB 1 DISTRICT SCORES
Holdingford 35, HLWW 7
Eden Valley-Watkins 22, Melrose 0
Pierz 50, Rockford 0
Paynesville 52, Maple Lake 18
MID SOUTHEAST WEST SCORES
Mayer Lutheran 27, LP/HT 15
Wabasha-Kellogg 34, J-W-P 27
Medford 45, United South Central 14
Bethlehem Academy 21, St. Clair 8
Kenyon-Wanamingo 34, MN Valley Lutheran 16
EAST CENTRAL SOUTH SCORES
Delano 26, Watertown-Mayer 6
Holy Family 45, Annandale 39
Zimmerman 38, Dassel-Cokato 14
Glencoe-Silver Lake 28, Litchfield 14