Crusaders snag share of first MRC crown

Headed into last week’s final regular season game, three teams were vying for pieces of the Minnesota River Conference title. Sibley East secured its share with a 41-0 blowout over LeSueur-Henderson, leaving Mayer Lutheran and Watertown-Mayer to battle it out on Oct. 17.

In a 21-14 victory at Watertown-Mayer, the Crusaders earned a slice of their first Minnesota River Conference title. Mayer Lutheran hadn’t won the conference since 2000, when it was a part of the Tri-Valley Conference.

“This was a big win for us,” head coach Dean Aurich said. “WTM is a good football team and our D really slowed them down.”

Mayer Lutheran jumped out in the first quarter, scoring on a 35-yard run by junior Joel Burfeind. In the second quarter, senior quarterback Jeremiah Grimsley connected with junior receiver Anthony Gruenhagen on a 32-yard pass for the Crusaders’ second touchdown. Watertown-Mayer’s Nick Tschida then ran the ball one yard to put the Royals on the scoreboard. Mayer Lutheran led 14-6 at the half.

In the third, senior Phil Burfeind found a hole in the Royals’ defense and scored a touchdown on a two-yard run. The Royal defense shut down the Crusaders in the fourth, while posting a TD of their own, but it wasn’t enough. The Crusaders snagged the win, and the conference title, in the 21-14 game.

Grimsley was 7-17 at quarterback for 124 yards and one touchdown. Gruenhagen caught three passes for 79 yards and one touchdown, while senior Tanner Luebke had 45 yards on two receptions. Top rushers for Mayer Lutheran included Joel Burfeind (90 yards), Phil Burfeind (82 yards), Grimsley (35), and junior Nathan Weber (13). The Crusaders tallied 344 offensive yards (220 rushing, 124 passing) on 70 offensive plays, while holding the Royals to only 194 yards.

Two sacks and three interceptions were key in the Crusaders’ defensive effort. All three interceptions were snagged by Luebke. Weber and Joel Burfeind each had a sack. Top tacklers included Weber (7), Joel Burfeind (6), Luebke (5), and junior Cole Buttenhoff (4).

“Our kids played hard,” Aurich said. “It is a great rivalry and WTM is a class act and well coached team.”

The Crusaders drew the No. 1 seed in Section 4AA and faced No. 8 Brooklyn Center Tuesday night, winning 51-21. They will host No. 5 St. Agnes on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. St. Agnes defeated No. 4 St. Paul Humboldt on Tuesday in a 27-14 game.