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Brian Wierima / Forum Communications Co., Published November 17 2012

Mahnomen advances to Minnesota Class 1A state championship game

MINNEAPOLIS – For much of this season, the Mahnomen Indians have relied on dominant defense and a potent offense.

But in their 26-20 victory in the Minnesota Class 1A state football semifinals against Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, special teams played a key role at the Metrodome on Saturday.

Special teams created 12 important points in the close victory, which helped send the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Indians to their second straight Class 1A title game.

Mahnomen, which finished as state runners-up last year to Dawson-Boyd, will face Bethlehem Academy of Faribault at 10 a.m. next Saturday for the state title inside the Metrodome.

Bethlehem Academy beat last year’s champion Dawson-Boyd 29-20 on Saturday.

“This was a good test for us today, because we haven’t had many close games,” said Mahnomen senior running back Garret Hoffner. “This is what we wanted all season, to get back to state and win it.”

For the first time this season, Mahnomen (13-0) allowed more than one touchdown against its first-string defense, after outscoring its opponents by a 491-37 margin prior to the semifinal game against the Falcons (9-3).

But it was two special teams’ plays that keyed the Indians’ first two scores, and ones they needed after a furious ACGC fourth-quarter comeback.

The game started with a 73-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by junior Trevor Haugo, who snagged the squib kick and broke through a big hole at midfield and went untouched to the end zone.

“That’s just a big play out of the gates,” said Mahnomen head coach John Clark Jr. “It’s something we’ve been working on all season.”

Hoffner made the Indians’ second big special teams play to start the second quarter. It answered the Falcons’ 61-yard, 13-play drive that was capped by a 15-yard halfback pass by Taylor Larson to quarterback Dylan Hoerchler to put ACGC on top 7-6.

After failing to gain a first down at midfield to open the second quarter, the Falcons punt returner muffed the Jacob Pavek punt, which was promptly recovered by Hoffner.

“I was just booking down there and yelling at (the returner), who panicked and muffed it,” Hoffner said. “I jumped on it.”

Five plays later, the Indians were back on top 12-7, after senior running back Bryce Penner scampered for a 7-yard touchdown run on a pitch right.

ACGC hurt itself by going offsides on a fourth-and-4 on its own 9-yard line, giving Mahnomen the first-and-goal.

The Falcons defense effectively was able to shut down the Indians’ interior rushing attack and senior quarterback Jacob Pavek (12 rushes for 30 rushing yards), but Mahnomen adjusted and started rushing the perimeter instead, where some big plays were made.

“They were loading the box pretty good, so we did start attacking the perimeter,” Clark said. “The kids did a good job running the plays, because it’s something we haven’t done much of this season.”

M 6 14 6 0–26

ACGC 7 0 0 13–20

M–Haugo 73 kick return (run failed)

ACGC–Hoerchler 15 pass from Larson (Damm kick)

M–Penner 7 run (pass failed)

M–Penner 38 run (Hoffner pass from Pavek)

M–Hoffner 5 run (pass failed)

ACGC–L. Whitcomb 46 pass from Hoerchler (pass failed)

ACGC–Nelson 2 run (Damm kick)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: M, Penner 6-63, Bjorge 20-71, Hoffner 8-64, Pavek 12-30, Haugo 1-8. ACGC, Nelson 19-53, Hoerchler 12-36, Macik 1-9, Larson 3-5.

PASSING: M, Pavek 2-8-0 43 yards, Haugo 1-1-0 38. ACGC, Hoerchler 10-23-1 140, Larson 4-4-0 57.

RECEIVING: M, Schoenborn 1-38, Haugo 1-30, Hanson 1-13. ACGC, L. Whitcomb 5-99, M. Whitcomb 4-38, Hoerchler 3-34, Macik 1-17, Larson 1-9.

Wierima writes for the Detroit Lakes Tribune