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No. 1 Mahnomen earns second-straight berth into Class 1A championship

Mahnomen, Minn., receiver Trevor Haugo (13) reaches for a catch with an Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City defensive back holding his arm during Saturday's Minnesota Class 1-A state football semifinal at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Haugo came down with the catch for a 30-yard reception and the defender was called for pass interference, which was declined. Brian Basham/DL Newspapers1 / 5
Mahnomen, Minn., running back Bob Bjorge (42) turns the corner for an outside run against ACGC during the first half of the Minnesota Class 1-A semifinal football game in Minneapolis Saturday. Brian Basham/DL Newspapers2 / 5
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City's Dylan Hoerchler (3) gets by the tackle attempt of Mahnomen's Darin Geray (28) during the first half of the Minnesota Class 1-A semifinal football game in Minneapolis Saturday. Brian Basham/DL Newspapers3 / 5
Leading by six points, Mahnomen, Minn., running back Bob Bjorge (42) coughs up a fumble with just 2:40 remaining in the Minnesota State Class 1-A football game against ACGC in Minneapolis Saturday. The fumble proved to not be costly to Mahnomen, as they went on to win the game 26-20. Brian Basham/DL Newspapers4 / 5
Mahnomen, Minn., football coaches Todd Johnson, Bob Larson, Steve McMullen and head coach John Clark, Jr. celebrate the Indians' Minnesota Class 1-A 26-20 semifinal win over ACGC Saturday in the H.H.H. Metrodome in Minneapolis. Brian Basham/DL Newspapers5 / 5

MINNEAPOLIS - For much of the 2012 season, the Mahnomen Indians have relied on dominant defense and a potent offense.

But in their 26-20 Class 1A state semifinal victory over Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, it was the Indian's third facet which played a key role inside the Metrodome 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 championship.

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

Bethlehem Academy beat Dawson-Boyd Saturday 29-20.

"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 their first-string defense, after outscoring their opponents by a hefty 491-37 margin prior to their semifinal game against the Falcons (9-3).

But it was two special teams' plays which 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 Falcon's long 61-yard, 13-play drive and capped on 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 Falcon 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."

It didn't take but five plays before the Indians were back on top 12-7, after senior running back Bryce Penner scampered for a seven-yard touchdown run on a pitch right.

ACGC hurt themselves by going offsides on a fourth and four on their own nine, thus giving Mahnomen the first and goal.

The Falcon 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."

One of the benefactors of the space created from ACGC focusing its attention on the inside, was Penner, who finished with six carries for 63 yards, including touchdown runs of seven and another 38-yarder late in the second quarter to give the Indians a 20-7 halftime lead.

"Their base defense was to stop our up-the-gut runs, so they were not as prepared for the sweeps," Penner said.

ACGC head coach Terry Karlsgodt also credited with the Indians' downfield blocking for the explosive perimeter rushes.

"It was a chess match back and forth all game," Karlsgodt said. "They have some good, strong wide receivers who blocked out secondary guys well, which broke some long gains. I don't think we were committing too much on their fullback and quarterback, they just made good blocks downfield."

The Indians forced a punt on the Falcons' first series of the second half and put together a strong 62-yard, seven-play drive to put Mahnomen up three possessions at 26-7.

The key play came on another one the Indians haven't unveiled until Saturday, which came in the form of a halfback pass by Haugo to Pavek for a 38-yard gain.

Hoffner capped it on a five-yard sweep left touchdown run.

"That's something we've had in our back pocket all season, but never had to use it," Clark said of the halfback pass option.

But the Falcons were not complacent in just making it to the semifinals.

They were able to put together two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, using the arm of senior quarterback Dylan Hoerchler, who was 7-10 for 113 yards and a touchdown in the final quarter alone.

He hit wide receivers Mitchel Macik and Maverick Whitcomb for gains of 17 and 20 yards, to set up a 46-yard touchdown bomb to senior tight end Lee Whitcomb to pull the Falcons to 26-13.

Hoerchler went back to the air in the team's second drive of the quarter, which started on the Mahnomen 30 after a good punt return and ending with junior running back Jordan Nelson plunging in from two yards out to make it a one possession game 26-20 with 5:26 in regulation.

"We made some good adjustments in the fourth quarter and I felt like we were coming on," Karlsgodt said. "We were able to spread their defense out and make the plays."

ACGC received their golden opportunity after a Mahnomen fumble - their third of the game -- on the Falcon 33, setting them up for a potential game-winning drive with 2:43 left on the clock.

The Falcons drove to their own 45, before a tip pass on third and 10 was intercepted by junior defensive back Nathan Hanson, and thus punching Mahnomen's state title game ticket.

"Turnovers were a huge factor for both teams," Clark added.

It wasn't a typical Mahnomen victory, after allowing 278 total yards and 16 first downs to ACGC. But at this level, a win is a win -- no matter how it is obtained.

"With Mahnomen having such a rich tradition, we get spoiled that we should make it this far every year," Clark said. "But it is difficult playing this far and making it to the championship game two years in a row. It is such a big accomplishment for these kids, I can't emphasize that enough."

Pavek was 2-8 passing for 43 yards, while pass catchers included Schoenborn (1-38), Haugo (1-30) and Hanson (1-13).

Bob Bjorge led the way in rushing for Mahnomen with 20 carries for 71 yards.

Hoerchler was 10-23 for 140 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while Larson was 4-4 on the halfback option for 57 yards, with the ACGC quarterback hauling in three for 34 yards.

But the near remarkable comeback by the Falcons will be something the Indians will use in their quest for seventh state championship.

"It was an eye opener," Penner said of Mahnomen's first close game of the season. "We will need to work on some things and next week will be a big challenge.

"But we will be ready."

Indian results

Class 1A state semifinals at the Metrodome, Minneapolis, Saturday, Nov. 17: Mahnomen vs. Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City.

Mahnomen 6 14 6 0 - 26

ACGC 7 0 0 13 - 20

Mah: Trevor Haugo 73-yard kickoff return; run failed. 11:50, 1st.

ACGC: Dylan Hoerchler 15-yard pass from Taylor Larson; Lucas Damm kick. 5:02, 1st.

Mah: Bryce Penner 7-yard run; pass failed. 9:47, 2nd.

Mah: Penner 38-yard run; Garret Hoffner pass from Pavek. 3:45, 2nd.

Mah: Hoffner 5-yard run; pass failed. 8:23, 3rd.

ACGC: Lee Whitcomb 46-yard pass from Dylan Hoerchler; pass failed. 9:15, 4th.

ACGC: Jordan Nelson 2-yard run; Damm kick. 5:26, 4th.

Rushing (att-yds-td) -- Mah: Bryce Penner 6-63-2; Bob Bjorge 20-71-0; Garret Hoffner 8-64-1; Jacob Pavek 12-30-0; Trevor Haugo 1-8-0. TOTAL: 48-236-3...ACGC: Jordan Nelson 19-53-1; Dylan Hoerchler 12-36-0; Mitchel Macik 1-9-0; Taylor Larson 3-5-0. TOTAL: 35-103-1.

Passing (comp-att-int-yds-td) -- Mah: Pavek 2-8-0-43-0; Trevor Haugo 1-1-0-38-0...ACGC: Hoerchler 10-23-1-140-1; Taylor Larson 4-4-0-57-1.

Receiving (rec-yds-td) -- Mah: Jason Schoenborn 1-38-0; Trevor Haugo 1-30-0; Nathan Hanson 1-13-0...ACGC: Lee Whitcomb 5-99-1; M. Whitcomb 4-38-0; Hoerchler 3-34-1; Macik 1-17-0; Larson 1-9-0.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.