Nine-Man Championship: Rockets fall short of goal
MINNEAPOLIS – The only sounds that could be heard as Underwood players headed to the locker room were the click-clacking of spikes against the Metrodome tunnel ground and Grand Meadow celebrating its first football state title in the distance.
Underwood, the little team that could, couldn’t Friday. The Rockets – representing a town of less than 400 – fell to the Superlarks 28-6 in the Minnesota Class 9-man state title game. It was the Rockets’ first-ever appearance in the state title game.
“We lost the battle up front,” Underwood coach Chuck Ross said. “Football is won on the line of scrimmage, and we didn’t get it done today.”
Underwood came into Friday’s game having rushed for 4,407 yards on the season behind state rushing leader Noah Thompson’s 2,579 yards.
The Rockets finished with a total of 95 yards rushing, and Thompson had just 40 yards on 13 carries.
“Their two linebackers are the two best linebackers that we’ve played against all year,” Ross said. “It’ll probably sink in more on Monday when you start thinking about how close you were. You’re always going to wonder if you should have done this or that. To get here has been awesome, but it’s going to hurt a little bit.”
A blocked punt late in the first quarter gave Grand Meadow (13-1) the ball at the Underwood 22-yard line. It took five plays for the Superlarks to open the scoring on a Trenton Bleifus 5-yard run.
The final seconds of the first half proved to be a killer for Underwood (10-4) and a nightmare for Adam Creek.
Despite having three first downs the entire game, the Rockets found themselves trailing only 7-0 with the ball and less than a minute to go in the half. Creek fumbled, Grand Meadow’s Isaac Tangen recovered, and Bleifus found Blake Olson for a 36-yard touchdown pass inches out of reach of the outstretched hand of Creek on the next play to give the Superlarks a 13-0 lead at half.
“That was a big momentum swing,” Creek said. “I didn’t lose faith, but I know a lot of people did. It was one of those plays where it could have gone either way.”
Grand Meadow opened the second half with a 10-play, 57-yard drive to make it 20-0. The Superlarks shut the door when Bleifus scrambled for a 33-yard touchdown run after getting initially hit behind the line of scrimmage with 8 minutes, 49 seconds left to make it 28-0.
“Our defense had been fantastic all year, and it’s how we got this far,” Underwood linebacker Max Kollar said. “Our offense just didn’t click today. It’s a hard loss to take.”
Unranked all season in any poll, Underwood was a No. 3 seed in its section. The Rockets defeated the top two seeds, both of which they lost to earlier in the season, to win the section.
They then topped the No. 5- and No. 6-ranked teams in the state to get to the program’s first title game. Not bad for a team that lost its starting running back and two of its first three games of the season.
“I know, right now, they’re pretty disappointed, but they got to look at what they did this season,” Ross said. “What they did was unbelievable. They have a lot of be proud of.”
It still doesn’t take away the pain of getting so close.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Creek said. “The ultimate thing was that we wanted to get the gold and we didn’t get it. I’m glad to be here as a senior. There’s a lot more in store for this program.”
Class 2A state championship, Saturday, Nov. 29
Rockets 0 0 0 0– 6
GM 7 6 7 8–28
G-Bleifus 5 run (Richardson kick)
G-Olson 36 pass from Bleifus (kick failed)
G-Jacobson 2 run (Richardson kick)
G-Bleifus 33 run (Olson run)
U-Hauge 32 pass from Creek (run failed)
RUSHING: U, N. Thompson 13-40, Creek 14-26 A. Thompson 1-1, Kalenze 6-21, Biegler 4-16, Montgomery 1-9. G, Jacobson 28-129, Stejskal 3-3, Bleifus 15-94
PASSING: U, Creek 6-13-1 94 yards, Kalenze 0-1-0 0 yards. G, Bleifus 10-20-0 111 yards
RECEIVING: U, Field 2-35, Hauge 3-52, Kalenze 1-7. G, Stejskal 2-31, Jacobson 2-13, Hartson 2-12, Ojulu 1-9, Olson 3-46