Mitch Kuhn returns a kickoff behind blocker Donnie Lind. During Saturday’s section semi-final, Kuhn closed the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run while Lind defended with a team-high nine tackles.  JON SPELTZ/NEWS-RECORD
Mitch Kuhn returns a kickoff behind blocker Donnie Lind. During Saturday’s section semi-final, Kuhn closed the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run while Lind defended with a team-high nine tackles. JON SPELTZ/NEWS-RECORD
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Arriving at Spring Grove for a Section 1A football semi-finals game last Saturday, the Mabel-Canton Cougars found themselves greeted by a large and loyal following of M-C fans.

Unfortunately for the visitors, the Lions struck with several big plays and smothered M-C most of the night with tough defense, winning 46-14.

Both offenses were slowed with four turnovers, but state-ranked (No. 5) Spring Grove still advanced via defense. The Cougars (6-4) answered the Lions' first touchdown but converted only one of 10 third-down opportunities.

The M-C defense limited the explosive SG attack to only three plays for 20 or more yards and intercepted two passes. But SG never had to punt and was not held on downs until the reserves (B-team) came up short on a fourth down late in the game.

The Lions out-gained the Cougars in total yardage 343 to 192. All except 16 M-C yards came on the ground.

Spring Grove struck first when quarterback Keenan Siminski hit Brady Schuttemeier for 22 yards and a touchdown on the opening possession. The next two Spring Grove tries ended with fumbles.

The Cougars took advantage of the Lions' second bobble (at the SG 25) and scored in four plays when Wayne Ross took a fourth-down hand-off and rambled 18 yards. That sliced the Lion lead to one point, 7-6.

But one scrimmage play later, Siminski hit Grinde for a 56-yard pass play, and SG led 13-6. Three plays after that Schuttemeier blocked a Cougar punt, and SG was back in business at the M-C 10. The Cougars appeared to escape when safety Keyser Wenthold picked off a pass near the goal line, but a fumble on the runback was recovered by SG receiver Dylan Kampschroer at the 15. Siminski scored from four yards out and it was 20-6 as the first quarter expired.

SG drove 63 yards to score again late in the second period. Then on the last play of the half, a pass rush by Tanner Sanness led to an interception by Brock Schuttemeier who returned it 41 yards to the end zone. Those two touchdowns in the final 15 seconds of the first half boosted the score to 40-6.

There was a problem for the hosts, however. On the interception return, Grinde went out with the season-ending injury. In his final half of play, the sophomore receiver caught six passes for a game-best 94 yards, had a goal line clearing block on the Lions' first touchdown and returned three punts for 38 yards.

Also missing much of the second half was Cougar running back/defensive back/punter/place kicker Weston Whalen. He finished with 31 yards rushing on five carries.

Ross ran 18 times for 136 yards. His 41- and 44-yard runs were the Cougars' longest gainers of the night.

M-C put together a late 11-play, 53-yard drive that ended on downs at the Lion 2 yard-line. But on the next snap, Lion reserves recovered their own fumble in the end zone for a safety. The Cougars then closed out the scoring with a six-play, 78-yard march capped by a 15-yard touchdown run by Mitch Kuhn.

Ross and Donnie Lind led the M-C defense with nine tackles each. Wenthold had seven tackles in addition to two interceptions in his final high school football game.

For SG, Siminski completed 13 of 19 passes (68 percent) for 228 yards and two touchdowns. With 2,148 passing yards for the year, he is the only Lion to surpass 2,000 yards in one season. The signal-caller also ran for three touchdowns on carries of four, one and six yards.

Gabe Solum led Lion rushers with 14 carries for 64 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown plunge. Folz and Noah Myrah each kicked two extra points.

Solum was the Lion tackle leader with 12. Engelhardt had eight stops. Brady Schuttemeier had seven tackles. In addition to the interception touchdown, sophomore Brock Schuttemeier was in on six tackles.

It was the Lions' eighth straight win in the series, including a 50-0 outcome in week five. But the Cougars still lead all time, 36 to 18.

The Lions (9-1) will face Grand Meadow (10-0) in the section championship game for the fourth straight season. The Superlarks clubbed Lanesboro 49-6 in the other semi-final game.

COUGAR INDIVIDUALS

RUSHING: Wayne Ross 18-136, TD; Weston Whalen 5-31; Mitch Kuhn 4-21, TD; Keyser Wenthold 6-9; Jon Selness 1-(-3); Wesley Richert 3-(-18). PASSING: Jon Selness 2-4-0, 16 yds.; Wes Richert 0-7-1; Keyser Wenthold 0-1-0. RECEIVING: Donnie Lind 1-16; Wayne Ross 1-0. INTERCEPTIONS: Keyser Wenthold 2-14 yds. FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Wayne Ross 1, Keyser Wenthold 1. SACKS (1): Wayne Ross 1. TACKLES for LOSS, incl. sacks (2): Wayne Ross 1.0; Ross McKenna 0.5; Bailey Vickerman 0.5. TACKLES (solo+assists): Donnie Lind 9 (5+4); Wayne Ross 9 (5+4); Keyser Wenthold 7 (5+2); Ross McKenna 6 (3+3); Bailey Vickerman 6 (1+5); Alex Mengis 6 (1+5); Weston Whalen 5 (3+2); Pierce Lind 5 (2+3); Jon Selness 3 (2+1); Mitch Kuhn 2 (2+0). KICKOFF RETURNS: Keyser Wenthold 5-78; Wayne Ross 2-34; Mitch Kuhn 1-8. PUNT RETURNS: none. SCORING: Wayne Ross 6, Mitch Kuhn 6, team 2 (safety). PUNTING: Weston Whalen 5-146 (29.2 avg.); team 1-0 (blocked)