by ADAM GRUENEWALD
With just one win heading into the Section 2AA playoffs, the Central football team has made two loud statements and will play in the final on Friday.
Seeded #6, Central (3-7) won two road playoff games this past week, a 36-35 win thriller over #3 Zumbrota-Mazeppa last Tuesday and a 35-14 dominating performance over #2 Medford on Saturday.
Next up, they will attempt to take down #1 Pine Island (8-2) on the road on Friday at 7 p.m. for a state tournament berth.
Central 35, Medford 14
Defense proved to be the key for Central as they forced five turnovers and overcame a 6-0 first quarter deficit.
After punting on their first possession, the Raiders put together a solid 58-yard scoring drive that featured several runs by Zach Mahon, Casey Clemensen and Noah Peterson.
Peterson had three rushes of 10 yards or more in the stretch, and Isaac Hormann also passed to Clemensen for a 14-yard conversion on fourth-and-12 to put the Raiders in the red zone. Peterson would get the 2-yard scoring rush, one of his three touchdowns on the night, for the 7-6 advantage.
The defense, which had given up a touchdown on the Tigers’ opening drive, then forced a quick three-and-out, leading to a 73-yard scoring drive capped off by a 23-yard touchdown reception by Clemensen with about three minutes left in the first half.
The Raiders’ defense would force a turnover on downs, leading to the play of the night. A triple-reverse leading to Peterson being wide open near the sideline, who caught a pass from Hormann and darted to the end zone for a 47-yard score and a 21-6 lead with under a minute left in the half.
Clemensen recorded an interception just before the end of the half, a sign of things to come because the Raiders would continue to get turnovers as Alex Meeker got an interception and Steeven Smith recovered a fumble.
“We were playing well down the line,” said Meeker. “Everyone was hitting their gaps and making plays.”
Brice Panning also recovered an early fumble and got an interception late in the game with 3.3 seconds left, contributing to the defensive effort which limited the Tigers to just 168 yards of total offense.
“We just took control of our gaps on defense and we got everything right on the runs, stayed to our gaps and did everything we practiced,” he said.
Meanwhile the offense kept on clicking with the run game, putting together long drives as Peterson rushed for a 4-yard score and Clemensen rushed for a late 4-yard rush with under a minute remaining.
Head coach Paul Henn said the defense was the clear difference in the game.
“We turned it around on defense tonight,” he said. “When we can play that way where we can control both sides of the ball, obviously this can be the result.”
Offensively, Hormann completed 6-of-11 passes for 111 yards. Peterson finished with three total touchdowns with two receptions for 52 yards and 147 yards rushing on 28 carries. Storms rushed for 46 and Clemensen had 62 yards rushing and 54 receiving.
“All of our playmakers tonight were making plays,” said Henn. “Casey had a massive night on both sides of the ball. What a huge night he had and that’s great for that kid.”
Henn said his team came into the playoffs well prepared, given the competition they faced during the regular season.
“If we can execute, we know how good we can be,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to a lot of our kids tonight because we executed just about flawlessly.”
Asked whether he saw the winning streak coming, Henn said he knew his team had the ability.
“It was just about putting it together and we started to put the pieces together against Le Sueur (Henderson) – we found out we could win,” he said. “We played Zumbrota and we found out we could win close. And this week we were able to put it together on both sides of the ball and win through execution.”
Meeker said practices this week will clearly focus on strategies to clinch a section title, as they continue to build off the late wins, which have been great for him and his fellow seniors.
“It definitely boosts the morale,” he said. “We’re all fired up and ready to take it to the next game and see if we can get a state tournament berth.”
Panning, a sophomore, agreed,
“It gives us a lot of momentum,” he said. “Hopefully we can prove it against Pine Island next week and do the same thing we just did tonight.”
Central 36, Zumbrota-Mazeppa 35
A gutsy decision paid off for Central football, giving them a Section 2AA first round road win over Zumbrota-Mazeppa last Tuesday, 36-35.
Trailing 35-34 after having just scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Isaac Hormann with 2 minutes, 34 seconds remaining, the Raiders decided to go for two and the essential win.
Head coach Paul Henn dialed up a familiar play when Isaac Hormann handed the ball off to Noah Peterson before going around the left side to receive a wide open pass from Peterson in the end zone as Casey Clemensen drew the defender away.
“I saw Casey take that guy with him and I’m like this is going to work,” said Hormann. “I was thinking ‘don’t drop it’ the whole time the ball was in the air. It feels like it’s in there forever.”
Hormann contributed to all five touchdowns for the Raiders, passing for two and rushing for three.
“The whole line blocked great,” he said. “Casey made a couple of great catches for me. Everyone just did their job the whole game and that’s how we came around with the win.”
He said his teammates made it easy to pick up yards all night, especially the offensive line.
“Once you get down to the goal line you just got to hold onto the football and run hard,” he said. “I got quite a few blocks up front, so it was pretty easy to get in the end zone for me.”
After the score, it was the defense’s turn and Clemensen made a huge tackle on fourth-and-1 to give the Raiders the ball at midfield with 1:24 left.
Clemensen then caught a first down pass from Hormann near the Zumbrota 20-yard line, before a couple of kneel downs ended the game.
“I was thinking I got to get down and not let them get the ball,” said Clemensen, adding that the win felt great. “It builds our confidence so much. We’re going to go so much more confident next game… It gets us going on a roll definitely. It feels awesome.”
The game was a back-and-forth classic with Central trailing 14-6 after the first quarter, before tying the game. Hormann converted a fourth-and-1 at the six-yard line, and then ran in from four yards out to make it 14-12. He then found Clemensen for the two-point conversion.
The Raiders used a nice mix of runs by Noah Peterson and Zach Storms and passing plays in their opening 62-yard scoring drive of the second half. Clemensen leapt up for a catch amidst a pair of defenders for the 17-yard touchdown for the Raiders’ first lead.
Zumbrota tied the game up on a quick scoring drive to make it 21-21 with 3:48 left in the third quarter, but Central would answer right away.
Hormann picked up 21 yards on a third-and-1 play to get into Zumbrota territory and scored the touchdown from eight yards out for the 28-21 lead.
Zumbrota responded with a 65-yard scoring drive when Jacob Tschann scored on a 12-yard run, but they missed the kick to keep the Raiders ahead, 28-27.
Zumbrota then recovered a short kickoff at the Raiders’ 48-yard line, and Tschann had several runs to the 1-yard line before quarterback Kurt Gadient ran in for the score. Gadient then found Tschann for the 2-point conversion, setting up Central’s scoring drive.
Hormann completed 6-of-7 passes for two touchdowns without an interception and also ran for 47 yards and three scores. Clemensen was his main target with five receptions for 88 yards.
Peterson gained 152 yards on 26 carries to go over 1,000 yards on the season and Storms added 58 yards on 13 rushes for the Raiders.
“Our offense tonight was just huge,” said Henn. “Our line dominated the line of scrimmage. We were able to run the ball, which gave Isaac openings both in his running and his passing… We definitely did some really good things offensively tonight and that’s good to see. We’ve had pretty good success on offense, but we turn it over at a bad time or something. It was great to see them put together a full game tonight.”
The win marked the second year in a row that the Raiders had pulled off a first round upset as they defeating Watertown last year.
“Crazy things happen in the playoffs,” said Henn. “The last two years, we’ve been able to rally and get an upset in the first round. We’ve got a lot of pieces here. The key is getting those kids to peak and believe in themselves at the right time. This is a good start.”
As for the decision on the two-point, Henn said you make that decision on the road.
“When you’re playing a playoff game on the road and you’ve got one shot and one shot that you feel pretty confident in, you try to get a win,” said Henn. “On the road, underdog, you go for it. We didn’t want to get into an overtime game so we went for it. We knew they hadn’t seen any of that and it was successful. We still got to execute it. Just a great job all around.”
While the execution was great, Henn said they might go away from it in the future.
“As long as people don’t see it I’m OK with running it,” he said. “I got a feeling it’s probably dead next week, but we can’t worry about next week, we have to worry about it game by game.”
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]
Central 35, Medford 14
Central 0 21 0 14 – 35
Medford 6 0 0 8 – 14
M – AJ Chappuis 1 run (kick missed) 9:16
C – Noah Peterson 2 run (Zach Schnabel kick) 11:25
C – Casey Clemensen 23 pass from Isaac Hormann (Schnabel kick) 3:25
C – Peterson 47 pass from Hormann (Schnabel kick) :38.8
M – Tyler Keller 14 run (Vanzuilen pass from Chappuis) 9:27
C – Peterson 4 run (Schnabel kick) 4:55
C – Clemensen 5 run (Schnabel kick) :58.6
First Downs – Central 16, Medford 8
Rushes – Central 56-271, Medford 25-124
Passing – Central 111, Medford 124 51
Comp-Att-Td-Int – Central 6-11-2-0, Medford 4-16-0-3
Fumbles-Lost – Central 1-1, Medford 3-2
Penalties-Yards – Central 2-14, Medford 3-20
Rushing – Central, Noah Peterson 28-147, Casey Clemensen 9-62, Zach Storms 14-46, Isaac Hormann 5-3
Passing – Central, Hormann 6-11-111 yards, two touchdowns
Receiving – Central, Clemensen 4-54, Peterson 2-52, Storms 1-5, Alex Eichner 0-0
Interceptions – Clemensen, Alex Meeker, Brice Panning
Fumble Recoveries – Panning, Steeven Smith
Central 36, Zumbrota-Mazeppa 35
Central 6 8 14 8 – 36
Medford 14 0 7 14 – 35
Z – Ellis Hirman 8 pass from Kurt Gadient (Jacob Tschann kick) 9:36
C – Casey Clemensen 24 pass from Isaac Hormann (kick missed) 6:37
Z – Gadient 2 run (Tschann kick) 1:45
C – Hormann 4 run (Clemensen pass from Hormann) 8:52
C – Clemensen 18 pass from Hormann (Schnabel kick) 6:29
Z – Jacob Forrey 6 pass from Gadient (Tschann kick) 3:48
C – Hormann 8 run (Schnabel kick) :57
Z – Tschann 12 run (kick missed) 9:23
Z – Gadient 1 run (Tschann pass from Gadient) 6:26
C – Hormann 1 run (Hormann pass from Peterson) 2:34
First Downs – Central 19, Zumbrota-Mazeppa 15
Rushes – Central 50-269, Z-M 33-141
Passing – Central 108, Z-M 276
Comp-Att-Td-Int – Central 6-7-2-0, Z-M 15-20-2-0
Fumbles-Lost – Central 0-0, Medford 1-1
Penalties-Yards – Central 2-20, Medford 6-35
Rushing – Central, Noah Peterson 26-152, Zach Storms 13-58, Isaac Hormann 9-47, Zach Heiland 2-12
Passing – Central, Isaac Hormann 6-7-108 yards, two touchdowns
Receiving – Central, Clemensen 5-88, Peterson 1-20, Alex Eichner 0-0
Fumble Recovery – Zach Mahon