By BRAD SALMEN
DC Enterprise Dispatch
SHAKOPEE – The Mayer Lutheran Crusaders forced five turnovers, including a tide-turning pick-six right before halftime, en route to a 31-21 victory over second-ranked Goodhue in the Class A State Quarterfinals Saturday at Shakopee.
It was the first state quarterfinal victory in six tries for the Crusaders, who were unranked in the last Class A poll.
Mayer Lutheran will now face Minneota Saturday, Nov. 18 at 11:30 a.m. at US Bank Stadium in the semifinals. The undefeated Vikings (10-0) defeated Mahnomen 34-22.
“The fans got their money’s worth,” said Mayer Lutheran coach Dean Aurich of the Goodhue game. “It’s going to be a big challenge, but if we can continue to attack on defense like we did [against Goodhue], we have a chance to win every game we’re in.”
There were a number of offensive stars for Mayer Lutheran in their win over Goodhue.
Quarterback Baden Noennig threw for two TDs, with receivers Branden Carlson and Kenson Boelke each hauling in one apiece, while Matt Menth added a touchdown on the ground.
But without a doubt, it was big plays on defense that won the game for Mayer Lutheran against the previously-undefeated Wildcats. The Crusaders forced two fumbles, and three interceptions.
“In the last 2-3 games, that’s been the key for us,” said Aurich. “Our kids are playing aggressively, and if we keep playing aggressively, good things will happen.”
It didn’t start out looking good defensively for LHS, however. In fact, early on it appeared that defense would be the letdown.
With Goodhue backed up to their own seven-yard line midway through the first quarter, tight end Ryan Schoenfelder took a pass in the flat from quarterback Jack Gadient, made a Crusader defender miss, and broke down the sideline for a 93-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats up 7-0.
“We couldn’t get our run game going, and then they slipped off for a 90-yarder,” said Aurich. “It wasn’t looking good.”
But after a Crusaders punt, the defense forced their first turnover of the game on a fumble late in the first quarter. Moments later in the second quarter, they capitalized with a 20-yard strike from Noennig to Carlson, who made a diving catch in the end zone.
The Crusaders held the Wildcats on the next two drives, forcing another fumble and a punt, before Noennig hit Kenson Boelke on an 18-yard pass to put LHS up 14-7 with 2:54 left to go in the first hafl.
Two minutes later, it was Boelke again that came up with possibly the biggest play of the game.
With Goodhue facing a third-and-long, Boelke read a bubble screen perfectly and jumped in front of the intended receiver for the interception, and raced untouched into the end zone with 28 seconds left in the half.
Aurich credited defensive coordinator Tim Zupke in part for the interception.
“[Zupke] runs schemes a lot in practice, and in this case, Boelke saw it coming,” said Aurich. “Boelke has a knack for getting there, and he was in the right position. That really turned the game around for us, and put us in a situation where we could control the game a little better.”
Up 21-7 at half, Mayer Lutheran made it a three-possession game early in the third quarter, when Cole Cummings hit a 30-yard field goal to put the Crusaders up 24-7. It was the first field goal attempt of the season for Cummings, who also hit on all four extra-point attempts in the game.
LHS then forced Goodhue to punt, and rattled off a seven-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped off by a five-yard Matt Menth run. The score seemigly put the Crusaders in control, up 31-7 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats were not to be counted out, however.
Goodhue drove down the field for a touchdown just two minutes later, on a 10-yard pass from Gadient to Schoenfelder. After forcing LHS into a three-and-out, Gadient again hooked up with Schoenfelder, this one for 30 yards, pulling the Wildcats to within 31-21 with just over nine minutes left in the game.
In those last nine minutes, the Crusaders struggled on offense, registering just one first down.
Fortunately, their defense stepped up big.
The first big play was a sack by Boelke on fourth down, with six minutes left.
The second was an interception by Noennig on a deep jump ball with four minutes left.
And the final dagger was an interception by Brock Hoese with just over a minute left, allowing LHS to kneel out the clock.
Though the Crusaders struggled at times on offense, especially with the ground game, the team made big plays when they mattered most, said Aurich.
“I wouldn’t say we were much better with the talent [than Goodhue],” he said. “But we made a few bigger plays when we needed to, and our defense stepped up and did an outstanding job.”
Goodhue QB Gadient finished 13-for-28 for 228 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions. All three of Gadient’s touchdowns went to Schoenfelder, who finished with 155 yards on five receptions.
While the numbers weren’t overly efficient for LHS quarterback Noennig (13-34-190), the junior made good decisions all game, and had several dropped balls by his receivers.
Carlson finished with over 100 yards in total offense, including 72 yards receiving and 51 yards rushing.
Boelke had five catches for 68 yards, while Hoese had three catches for 46 yards. Menth had 47 yards on the ground.
Menth also led the team in tackles with eight, including one sack.
Matt Binstock had seven tackles, with Hoese and Kaleb Winter adding six.
Boelke and Graham Friske each recorded 1 1/2 sacks.
MAYER LUTHERAN 31, GOODHUE 21
Saturday, Nov. 11
1 2 3 4 – F
GOODHUE 7 0 7 7 21
MAYER LUTH. 0 21 10 0 31
GOOD – Schoenfelder 93 pass from Gadient (Bigalk kick), 8:09.
ML – Carlson 20 pass from Noennig (Cummings kick), 2:20.
ML – Boelke 18 pass from Noennig (Cummings kick), 9:06.
ML – Boelke 45 interception return (Cummings kick), 11:32.
ML – Cummings 30-yard field goal, 3:15.
ML – Menth 5 run (Cummings kick), 8:13.
GOOD – Schoenfelder 10 pass from Gadient (Bigalk kick), 10:28.
GOOD – Schoenfelder 30 pass from Gadient (Bigalk kick), 2:41.