Detroit Lakes 43  Thief River Falls 29

MOORHEAD -  En route to celebrating with the drove of Detroit Lakes’ fans, several players of the Laker football team tripped and dropped the Section 8-4A championship plaque, which was earned with their 43-29 victory over Thief River Falls Saturday at Concordia College.

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But it can be said, that was probably the worst thing which went wrong for the Lakers on this championship day.

With their second-straight section title in the books, the Lakers will now face DeLaSalle (9-1) Saturday, Nov. 9, at St. Cloud State University at 8 p.m.

The Islanders have the No. 3 ranking in the Class 4A QRF ranking.

To get there, the top-seeded Lakers (9-1) withstood a rallying No. 2 Thief River Falls team after the Prowlers (7-3) pulled to within one score after trailing 35-14.

But the Lakers persevered with a drive to answer TRF’s fourth-quarter scoring drive, which ate up 5:16 of the clock and went 80 yards in 12 plays and capped with a 17-yard senior Jarett Nosal touchdown scamper to put DL up by two possessions with 1:56 left in regulation.

It was a drive which wins championships.

“We knew going into that last drive, if we could go out and have 10 to 12 plays, that would eat the clock and probably win it,” said senior quarterback Michael Herzog, who had a game-high 154 yards on 29 carries and two rushing TDs. “The offensive line, backs and receivers did what they had to do to win the game.”

With the Prowlers using a 74-yard scoring drive to start the fourth quarter, highlighted by a 26-yard pass completion by junior quarterback Zeb Nelson to senior running back Alex Finseth and capped on a two-yard plunge by senior fullback Ian Lund, they pulled to within six points with 6:40 left in regulation.

It was going to be a season-defining march, spearheaded by DL’s physical offensive line, which was staring 80 yards down the field to put the clincher on their second-straight Section 8-4A championship.

Five plays into the series, the Lakers were faced with a fourth and inches on their own 40, with over four minutes left on the clock.

It was a no-brainer, it was a must go-for-it decision.

“We wanted to go heads up on them and go right at them,” said junior center Briton Thompson.

It was a make-or-break play and was converted narrowly by Herzog, who called his own number with a draw and dove for the first down – by about a half a football length.

“Michael made a nice read and that’s something he is very good at doing,” said DL head coach Flint Motschenbacher. “He makes big plays at big times.”

With that bullet dodged, the Lakers were put in the path of another oncoming train of consequences, after a holding call pushed the offense back 10 yards and put them in a second and 17 position.

Again, it was Herzog who squirted through a hole around left end and wasn’t taken down until he was past the first down sticks 19 yards later.

“I just got some space and knew how much yardage I needed to get,” Herzog said.

It was a play which put another nail in the Prowlers’ coffin.

“That play was the most important one in the game,” Thompson said. “It made a big difference between a win and loss.”

From there, DL started to milk the clock with the rushing of Herzog and Nosal, who had three straight rushes for a total of 28 yards to set up DL first and 10 on the TRF 20.

Two plays later, Nosal picked up 17 of his 146 rushing yards in the game, zinging through the Prowler defense for the cushion the Lakers were hoping for  80 yards back down the field.

A two-point conversion pass by Herzog to junior wideout Ryan Cihak crept DL that much closer to the Class 4A state playoffs.

“The guys went out and did what they had to do, it wasn’t always pretty, but they really sucked it up and played through it,” Motschenbacher said.

The Prowlers didn’t go away quietly, thanks in part to a pair of DL penalties as they drove it down to the Laker 25, before junior secondary player Sam Champa clamped onto his sixth interception of the season to salt the game away.

The Lakers were paced from the onset by their rushing attack, which was in rhythm all day by the tune of 312 yards on 50 carries (6.24 ypc). That enabled the offense to control possession with 22 first downs.

“Those first downs really take a lot out of a team,” Motschenbacher said. “We also limited our bad plays and mistakes and that’s what you need to do in playoff football.”

The Lakers were dynamic offensively, as well, with four different players scoring touchdowns.

Two went to Herzog and Nosal each, while Cihak made his presence felt once again in the passing game by hauling in a 28-yard end zone grab in the third quarter to put DL up 35-14.

Senior slotback Casey Paskey also hit paydirt on a 12-yard end around to break a 14-14 tie and put DL up 21-14, with junior Luke Payne once again going perfect from his extra-point duties with a 5-for-5 performance.

A huge momentum push was nabbed by the Laker defense towards the end of the first half, after DL failed to convert on fourth and seven from the TRF 17.

The Prowlers, though, elected to try and run the clock out with 1:30 remaining, but DL stifled that attempt with two timeouts and an eventual fumble recovery by senior defensive end Sam Voz on the TRF 13 with 49.2 left in the half.

Herzog did the rest with three consecutive runs to put DL up by two possessions 28-14 at halftime.

“That was big, it put us up by two scores going into half, then we were able to stop them and score again in the third quarter,” Herzog said.

That series of affairs forced a TRF punt on the opening possession of the third quarter, with Herzog finding Cihak in the end zone, who made a stretching scoring catch.

But back-to-back touchdown dives by senior Ian Lund for the Prowlers, pulled the No. 2 seed within striking distance, that is, before DL’s game-killing drive.

“We were able to keep our composure,” Thompson said. “The motto of the day was to ‘Win the play and move onto the next.’

“We were able to do that.”

The Laker defense was able to keep the potent Prowler rushing attack in check, as they picked up 231 yards on 38 carries, while junior running back TyJuan Brown led the way with 90 yards on 11 carries. He also had TD carries of 15 and 35 yards in the first half.

Herzog was more efficient through the air, going 8-12 for 78 yards, with one interception and one TD. Cihak had a team-high three catches for 49 yards.

With the slightly damaged Section 8-4A championship trophy safely residing next to the 2012 one, that 10-year state playoff drought is looking rather far away now.

For Herzog, who is piling up his all-time DLHS career scoring record to even higher numbers, the team win is a good reminder of the larger picture.

“You can have all the stats in the world, but my favorite one is the win/loss one,” the DL quarterback said. “Winning is much more fun.”

And if that’s the case, these group of Lakers are having blast heading into their state quarterfinal matchup next Saturday.  

Section 8-4A championship: (2) Thief River Falls vs. (1) Detroit Lakes at Concordia College, Saturday, Nov. 2.  

Prowlers     6  8  7  8 - 29

Lakers        14 14 7 8 - 43

TRF: TyJuan Brown 15-yard run; kick blocked. 8:53, 1st quarter.

DL: Jarett Nosal 4-yard run; Luke Payne kick. 6:03, 1st.

DL: Michael Herzog 3-yard run; Payne kick. 1:38, 1st.

TRF: Brown 35-yard run; Zeb Nelson run. 11:37, 2nd.

DL: Casey Paskey 12-yard run; Payne kick. 5:51, 2nd.

DL: Herzog 2-yard run; Payne kick. 28.7, 2nd.

DL: Herzog 28-yard pass to Ryan Cihak; Payne kick. 7:17, 3rd.

TRF: Ian Lund 3-yard run; Dominic Kruse kick. :43, 3rd.

TRF: Lund 2-yard run; Nelson pass to Alex Finseth. 6:40, 4th.

DL: Nosal 17-yard run; Herzog pass to Cihak. 1:56, 4th.

Rushing (att-yds-td) – DL: Michael Herzog 29-154-2; Jarett Nosal 17-146-2; Casey Paskey 3-19-1; Ryan Cihak 1-(-7)-0. TOTAL: 50-312-5…TRF: TyJuan Brown 11-90-2; Nathanael Holecek 7-77-0; Ian Lund 12-55-2; Alex Finseth 4-15-0; Dominic Kruse 1-(-2)-0; Zeb Nelson 3-(-4)-0. TOTAL: 38-231-4

Passing (att-comp-inc-int-yds-td) – DL: Herzog 12-8-3-1-78-1…TRF: Nelson 21-7-13-1-111-0

Receiving (rec-yds-td) – DL: Cihak 3-49-1; Christian Hedstrom 2-16-0; Casey Paskey 2-2-0; Sam Champa 1-5-0…TRF: Finseth 3-43-0; Jacob Joppru 2-48-0; Turner Storm 2-20-0