Alex Folz evades diving tackler Cade Olson at the Spring Grove 12 yard-line for a critical first down during a dramatic 93-yard touchdown drive that led to the Lions’ first lead of the game with only eight seconds to play. Photo by Jon Speltz
Alex Folz evades diving tackler Cade Olson at the Spring Grove 12 yard-line for a critical first down during a dramatic 93-yard touchdown drive that led to the Lions’ first lead of the game with only eight seconds to play. Photo by Jon Speltz
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The Spring Grove Lion football team broke a five-game losing skid in Section One, 9-Man title contests by beating Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran 36-35 on Friday, Nov. 3, on the Rochester Community and Technical College campus. Spring Grove (11-0), ranked No. 1 in the state 9-Man poll, rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the No. 4-ranked Clippers (9-2) and advance to the state football tournament.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Lions in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. After beating the No 4-ranked team in the state, Spring Grove heads to Buffalo to face No. 3 Verndale (11-0) on Friday night, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m.

THE DRIVE

The Lions trailed for most of the game against the Clippers, not taking their first lead until just 8 seconds were left in the game. SG took the ball 93 yards, capping off the drive with a two-point conversion to take the lead, 36-35.

This was the second late rally and one-point win for the Lions against the Clippers. Spring Grove won their season opener 52-51 in overtime, also against C/IL, back on Sept. 1, thanks to a missed 2-point conversion try by the Clippers.

One of the more clutch drives in Spring Grove school history went 18 plays and 93 yards. The march began after some equally clutch defensive play, starting with 4:49 on the clock after the Lion “D” had stopped C/IL on four straight plays from the Spring Grove 7 yard-line. Spring Grove then had to convert four third-down plays and one fourth-down play to keep the drive alive.

It was third and 10 from the seven for the Lions when quarterback Alex Folz scrambled 18 yards for a critical first down. On third and 5, Folz hit Sam Sanness with a 21-yard pass completion. Folz also ran four yards on a fourth and 2 play. Cullen Patterson got into the act, converting a third down with an 11-yard run to the Clipper 5 with only 17 seconds to play.

Folz then spiked the ball to stop the clock on first down. After an incomplete pass, Folz ran to the right, drawing two defenders before pitching back to Patterson, who ran the ball into the end zone with 8 seconds left.

Now down just 35-34 and after a timeout, the Lions went for two points and the win with Folz getting dragged down by his facemask just short of the goal line. After the penalty and with the ball just outside the 1 yard-line, this time Folz would fake the pitch and kept it himself, carrying the ball in for the Lions’ first lead of the entire game.

“After being down 23 points in the first game against Cleveland and coming back to win,” said Spring Grove head coach Zach Hauser, “these guys never felt like they were out of the game even though we were down 14 in the fourth quarter. There is no quit in these guys.”

THE NUMBERS

In a game of this magnitude, extra-point conversions were huge and both kickers were perfect on the night. Folz went 4 for 4 and Clipper kicker Aaron Salmon was 5 for 5 kicking extra points.

Total yardage was just as even as the scoreboard would seem to indicate. Cleveland outgained Spring Grove by a mere 21 yards (530 to 509) in a game that came down to the Lion running game against the Clipper passing attack. The Lions passed for just 129 yards while the Clippers rushed for the exact same total, half of which came on a 66-yard run by Carter Brink.

Clipper 6-foot-2 senior Carter Kopet completed an impressive 26 of 41 passes for 401 yards (surely a record for a Spring Grove opponent) and 5 touchdowns (43, 4, 3, 44, and 21 yards) to 4 different receivers. Austin Plonsky caught 13 passes for 194 yards and a TD.

One media source had Kopet leading the state in regular-season touchdowns passes (41) and second in passing yardage.

Spring Grove ran for 380 yards, with Folz carrying the ball 36 times for 241 yards, both career-high totals, and 2 TD runs of 11 and 4 yards.

Patterson, often a lead blocker, rushed only 12 times but totaled up 139 yards (11.6 average) and 3 TDs (18, 65, and 5 yards). Folz and Patterson both went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in this game.

After Folz, (the SG career passing leader) had passed for 294 yards and 4 touchdowns in the season opener, the Clipper pass defense was superb in the rematch with very few open Spring Grove receivers. Instead of relying on Folz’s right arm (8 of 24, 129 yards), Spring Grove attacked with the quarterback’s legs and blocking by linemen Austin Patterson, George Boyd, Taylor Holty and Sam Sanness.

“Our running game literally carried us,” Hauser said. “The offensive line was dominant all game. The defense gave up a lot of yards but really came through and made some big plays in key situations.”

It was literally a battle of run versus pass as all 5 Clipper TDs were scored in the air while all 5 Lion touchdowns came on the ground.

But three Folz key pass completions would lead to Lion touchdowns. Noah Elton reeled in 4 catches, including a great jump-ball grab that was good for 25 yards to jump-start the Lions’ next-to-last TD drive.

THE DEFICITS

There’s no question Spring Grove had to battle, spending most of the game coming back from two-TD deficits.

After Spring Grove was stopped twice in Clipper territory, C/IL went 73 yards in only 3 plays to take a 7-0 lead with 6 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Lions answered quickly with a 3-play, 57-yard drive to tie it at 7-all.

Cleveland scored on its third-straight possession to take a 21-7 lead before Spring Grove would knock it back to a one-score deficit at halftime, 21-14.

For much of the game, Spring Grove would answer every Clipper score (usually very quickly) but wouldn’t be able to take advantage on offense after getting a stop on defense.

The Lions alternated between 7 and 14-point deficits until stopping a 13-play Clipper drive on the Lion 7 just before the game-winning drive.

Kopet overthrew a wide-open receiver in the end zone on second down. The Clippers decided not to kick a field goal on fourth down, and a diving Cullen Patterson broke up another pass in the end zone. That was the third stop on downs for the Spring Grove defense in the second half.

THE DEFENSES

Each defense made big plays in the game, including one critical interception each. Cade Olson picked off a Lion pass on his own goal line to prevent Spring Grove from breaking a scoreless tie.

Luke Schneider intercepted a Clipper pass on the Lion 3 yard-line to prevent C/IL from going ahead by two touchdowns just before halftime.

Another key defensive gem was Folz knocking the ball loose from a Clipper receiver on the goal line to prevent a fourth-down TD catch.

Cullen Patterson, playing cornerback, highlighted the Lion defense with 2 pass break-ups and 16 tackles (12 solo). Schneider and Elton were each in on 10 stops while Folz added 8.

THE HISTORY

This was the seventh straight year in the section championship game for the Lions but their first win and state tournament birth in six seasons (since 2011).

“The fans and community support have been great all season,” Hauser said. “Finally getting out of the section and advancing to state after losing the past five section championship games feels great.”

The Clippers and Spring Grove will see each other again next during the first game of the 2018 campaign, with Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran as the host team.

>>SG 36, Cleveland/IL 35

C/IL--0--21--14--0 = 35

SG---0--14---7--15 = 36

TEAM TOTALS

YARDAGE (rush+pass): SG 509 (380+129), C/IL 530 (129+401)

RUSHING att.-yards (avg.): SG 48-380 (7.9) 5 TD; C/IL 30-129 (4.3)

PASSES comp-att-int, yds. (TD): SG 8-25-2, 129 yds.; C/IL 26-41-1, 401 yds. (5TD)

Sacks allowed: SG 0, C/IL 3

TD: SG 5 rush, C/IL 5 pass

PAT: SG 5-5 (kick 4-4, run 1-1); C/IL 5-5 (kick 5-5)

TOTAL PLAYS: SG 73, C/IL 71

YARDS/PLAY: SG 7.0, C/IL 7.5

FUMBLES - LOST: SG 1-0, C/IL 1-0

TURNOVERS: SG 2, C/IL 1

PENALTY: SG 3-25, C/IL 5-22

3rd downs: SG 6-13, C/IL 6-14

4th downs: SG 1-5, C/IL 2-5

Red zone: SG 4-5, C/IL 2-4

First downs: SG 24, C/IL 19

Plays/20+ yards: SG 7, C/IL 10

>>INDIVIDUALS:

RUSHING: Alex Folz 36-241, 2TD, long 35; Cullen Patterson 12-139, 3TD, long 65

PASSING: Alex Folz 8-24-2, 129; Team spike 0-1-0

RECEIVING: Noah Elton 4-35, long 25; Luke Schneider 1-41; Ethan Matzke 2-32, long 23; Sam Sanness 1-21

PUNTING: Alex Folz 1-37

XP KICKING: Alex Folz 4 - 4

INTERCEPTION: Schneider 1-4 yds.

PASS BREAKUPS: Cullen Patterson 2, Alex Folz 1, Sam Sanness 1

SACKS: Sam Sanness 1.5, George Boyd 1.0, Noah Elton 0.5

TACKLES for LOSS (incl. sacks): Sam Sanness 1.5, George Boyd 1.0, Taylor Holty 1.0, Luke Schneider 1.0, Alex Folz 0.5, Noah Elton 0.5, Cullen Patterson 0.5

TACKLES (solo+assists): Cullen Patterson 16 (12+4); Luke Schneider 10 (6+4); Noah Elton 10 (4+6); Alex Folz 8 (5+3); Sam Sanness 7 (4+3); Taylor Holty 7 (2+5); Adin Solum 5 (3+2); George Boyd 5 (1+4); Tyler Kersten 2 (1+1)

KICKOFF RETURNS: Adin Solum 4-106, long 33; Tyler Kersten 1-8

PUNT RETURNS: Noah Elton 2-37

SCORING: Alex Folz 18, Cullen Patterson 18

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SECTION ONE 9-MAN FOOTBALL 2017

QUARTERFINALS

#1 Spring Grove 64, #8 Lyle/Pacelli 20

#4 Grand Meadow 52, #5 Mabel-Canton 22

#3 Cleveland/IL 55, #6 LeRoy-Ostrander 30

#2 Houston 72, #7 Lanesboro 14

SEMI-FINALS

#1 Spring Grove 40, #4 Grand Meadow 17

#3 Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran 33, #2 Houston 6

FINALS - Nov. 3 at RCTC 5 p.m. - winner advances to state

#1 Spring Grove vs. #3 Cleveland/Immanuel/Lutheran

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Spring Grove Varsity Football

11 wins, 0 losses (7-0 East Sub-district)

W vs. Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran 52-51 (OT)

W at Lyle/Pacelli 70-6

W vs. Mabel-Canton 50-16

W at Randolph 53-7

W vs. Lanesboro 60-14

W at Houston 26-6

W vs. Grand Meadow 33-20

W at LeRoy-Ostrander 49-14

SECTION: Spring Grove 64, Lyle/Pacelli 20

SECTION: Spring Grove 40, Grand Meadow 17

SECTION: Spring Grove 36, Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran 35

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Spring Grove B-Team Football

3 wins, 1 loss

W vs. Mabel-Canton 40-8

L at Grand Meadow 6-20

W vs. LeRoy-Ostrander 72-0

W at Randolph 22-6

10/09 at Houston, canceled

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Spring Grove/Mabel-Canton/North Winneshiek Junior High Football

1 win, 5 losses, 1 tie

W vs. Lyle/Pacelli 24-12

L at Grand Meadow 0-38

L vs. LeRoy-Ostrander 0-44

L vs. Lansing Kee 6-48

L at Randolph 0-32

T vs. Houston 7-7

L vs. Lanesboro 7-26

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Spring Grove/Mabel-Canton Sixth/Fifth Grade Football

5 wins, 0 losses

W vs. Winona Orange 26-0

W vs. Lewiston 28-0

W vs. Winona Black 21-6

W vs. Cochrane-Fountain City 34-9

W vs. Houston 33-0

W. Winona Orange 41-0

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