Perham rolls into state with win over Thief River Falls
When Perham started the season with two straight losses, Yellowjackets coach Howie Kangas told his team they were going to get better.
"I said they might not notice it at first," Kangas said. "But week by week, they were going to get better."
Yes they did. Perham won its ninth straight game Friday in the Alerus Center with a 30-20 win over Thief River Falls in the Minnesota Section 8AAA championship.
"We just had a couple of rough games to start the year," Perham quarterback Ben Bucholz said. "But we were all very confident we could do well."
Perham (9-2 overall) will play the winner of Holy Family Catholic and Pine City, the Section 5AAA champion, in the first round of the state tournament Nov. 8 at 3 p.m. at St. Cloud State.
The Yellowjackets earned their second straight section championship behind a strong passing game (197 yards) and a momentum-changing trick play on Perham's first offensive possession.
After Thief River Falls scored on a Myles Keefe 77-yard run on the first offensive play of the game, Perham wasted no time with an answer.
On Perham's second offensive play, Nathan Schmitz threw a halfback pass to a wide open Ben Kursnia for a 55-yard score. Perham tacked on a 2-point conversion and less than a minute into the game 15 points had scored.
"Quite frankly I didn't know what to think," Kangas said. "I see them score on the first play, and I thought goodnight Irene.
"But I once heard (legendary college football coach) Bobby Bowden say, 'Be the first team to run a trick play,'" said Kangas, who added it was the first time he used a halfback pass this season.
Perham's balanced offense, which also received 78 rushing yards from Nathan Schmitz, and an opportunistic defense weathered the early storm.
"Perham had a championship attitude," Thief River Falls coach Jeff Mumm said. "Everything we did, they had an answer. When they needed to make plays, they made plays."
Thief River Falls' last chance came with 3 minutes, 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter when Myles Keefe ran into the end zone from 2 yards out to cut Perham's lead to 30-20. However, the ensuing 2-point conversion pass failed to seal the Prowlers' fate.
Keefe, who broke the school's single-season rushing record in the first half, finished with 186 rushing yards on 22 carries. The Prowlers racked up more than 450 yards of total offense.
But Thief River Falls couldn't overcome two second-half turnovers.
"In a championship game like this, mistakes are going to magnify," Mumm said. "The turnovers really hurt."
Mumm was also impressed with Perham's defense, specifically junior linebacker Charlie Schmitz.
"He's as good as they come," Mumm said. "That 3-5 defense they run really allows him to get in there and make tackles."
Perham was also strong offensively, especially in the first half. Bucholz, a 6-foot-7 junior quarterback, finished the game with 142 passing yards and 32 rushing yards.
His two touchdown passes built an early lead and forced a run-oriented Thief River Falls team into passing situations.
"Ben was throwing strikes," Kangas said. "He's a prime-time player."
Minn. Section 8AAA
THIEF RIVER FALLS 20
Perham 14 8 8 0 - 30
Thief River Falls 7 7 0 6 - 20
TRF - Myles Keefe 77 run; Jerry Guerrero kick
P - Ben Kursnia 55 pass from Nathan Schmitz; Andrew Waldon pass from Ben Bucholz
P - Kursnia 11 pass from Bucholz; pass failed
P - Alex Phelps 8 pass from Bucholz; Bucholz run
TRF - Zach Sorenson 10 pass from Cody Connors; Guerrero kick
P - Gavin Biegler 5 run; Chris Scheidecker pass from Bucholz
TRF - Keefe 2 run; pass failed
RUSHING -- TRF: Myles Keefe 22-186, Tyler Aandal 7-85; P: Nathan Schmitz 17-78, Charlie Schmitz 5-49
PASSING -- TRF: Cody Connors 12-26-1, 186 yards; P: Ben Bucholz 9-15-0, 142 yards
RECEIVING -- TRF: Zach Sorenson 4-57, Riley Simensen 3-49, Keefe 3-28, Aandal 2-44; P: Ben Kursnia 4-86, Cody Soderstrom 2-56, Andrew Waldon 2-41