Alex Folz barges into the end zone for one of his four touchdown carries in the state tournament win over Verndale. Photo by Jon Speltz
Alex Folz barges into the end zone for one of his four touchdown carries in the state tournament win over Verndale. Photo by Jon Speltz
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The No. 1-ranked Spring Grove Lions (12-0) advanced to the semifinal round of the state 9-Man football playoffs after a quarterfinal round win over No. 3-ranked Verndale (11-1) on a snowy Friday night in Buffalo by a score of 34-6. The Lions advance to play in the state semifinals in the home of the Vikings. They’ll face Stephen Argyle Central (10-1) on Thursday morning, Nov. 16, with kickoff at 11:30 a.m. in U.S. Bank Stadium.

Big plays were the key to a win for the Lions, including two goal-line stands, a blocked punt, the longest run in the Spring Grove record book and three drives of 85 yards or more - all of which sent Spring Grove to the state semifinals for the first time in 14 years.

A large Lion crowd (over two busloads) made the three-and-a-half-hour trip north to watch the game in Buffalo on a cold, snowy night. It was 24 degrees with 10 mph winds at kickoff.

The Pirates scored first, but the backbreaker would come early in the second half as the Lions led 15-6. A 56-yard bomb gave the Pirates great field position at the Spring Grove 5 yard-line. The Lion defense came up big, stopping all four Verndale plays with a big goal-line stand.

What came next was far bigger as Alex Folz broke free on the very next play on a 97-yard touchdown gallop, putting the Lions up 21-6. This was the longest TD run in the Spring Grove school record books (single-game records go back to 2002).

"I felt the game was decided by big plays," said coach Zach Hauser. "The two goal line stands and the 97-yard run by Alex Folz after the second goal line stand stick out the most.

"I am not surprised by anything Alex does. He's a gifted athlete and a competitor. Whether it's hitting a buzzer-beater in a playoff basketball game or running a 97-yard TD to break open a state football game, he just makes things happen."

The Spring Grove defense would force punts on the next two Pirate possessions, the first of which rolled to a stop at the Lion 10 yard-line. The Lion offense responded with an 18-play, 90-yard scoring drive, capped off by Folz running it in from the 3 yard-line to make it 27-6.

After the next Verndale punt, the Lions only took 4 plays to go 65 yards, and Folz ran in his fourth rushing TD from the 16.

Folz carried the ball an amazing 25 times for 215 yards and passed for another 158 yards while completing 9 of 12 passes (75%) with no interceptions and only one sack. It was his second straight game rushing for more than 200 yards.

Cullen Patterson carried 14 times for 83 yards as SG outgained the much larger Pirates on the ground with 284 yards to only 81 for Verndale. The Lions tallied up 442 total yards to 269 for the Pirates.

Noah Elton caught four passes for 98 yards, including a 69-yard catch-and-run that set up the first Spring Grove score of the game.

PIRATES PREVAIL EARLY

While the Lions would dominate the second half, two punts (one short, one blocked) had them backed up in their own end of the field for the entire first quarter.

The game actually began with a 3-and-out for Spring Grove and then a punt for only 15 yards. The Pirates launched a 14-play, 55-yard drive that ended on downs only inches from the goal line.

The first goal-line stand just delayed the first touchdown as Verndale blocked the second SG punt and took over at the Lion 27 yard-line.

On second down, Mack Jones hit Luke Weniger with a 28-yard TD pass and a 6-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

MOMENTUM SWINGS TO SG

Spring Grove answered quickly, driving 85 yards on only 6 plays, one of which was the Folz-to-Elton 69-yard pass on a critical third-and-14 play.

Patterson scored on a 9-yard run. The extra-point kick was momentarily in trouble as Elton mishandled the snap but alertly got up and passed the ball to Ethan Matzke for a 2-point conversion and an 8-6 lead.

The Lions threatened on their next possession (10 plays, 44 yards) but turned it over on downs at the Pirate 22.

However, four plays later, Sam Sanness blocked a Verndale punt, and Spring Grove had the ball right back at the Pirate 12. Folz scored on a 5-yard run and kicked the extra point for a 15-6 advantage in the final minute of the first half.

The Pirates started the second half with a 61-yard drive but were denied by the second Spring Goal goal-line stand. Folz then galloped 97 yards, leaving four Pirate tacklers behind with one sideline move.

DEFENSE “PASSES” TEST

Now down 21-6, Verndale started throwing the ball, but Jones completed only 11 of 62 (18%) while getting sacked once by Sanness and intercepted twice by Elton and by Adin Solum.

There were also 6 Pirate passes broken up by 6 different Lion defenders, including Solum, Elton, Folz, Taylor Holty, Cullen Patterson and Luke Schneider.

The Spring Grove defense held Verndale to only 4-of-13 success on third-down plays. The Pirates came away with no points on all 3 opportunities in the red zone. Holty, Reese Crouch, and George Boyd all stopped one fourth-down play inches from the goal line. Holty, Folz, and Schneider all chipped in to stop a later fourth-down run at the 2.

"The two (goal line) stands were huge," added Hauser. "But I was really happy with the way the defense played all game. To hold a power running team as big as Verndale was on offense to 2.5 yards per carry was impressive."

Most of the carries for both teams came by the quarterbacks. But, while Folz (215 yards) averaged 8.6 yards per rush, Jones (52 yards) averaged only 3.4 yards. The Lion offense averaged 7.5 yards per play with the lone turnover (fumble) coming very late with reserves from both teams on the field.

Two-time state champ Verndale finished the season at 11-1, while the Lions won a 12th game for only the second time in the history of the program and became just the second Spring Grove squad to advance to the state semifinals.

SG 34, Verndale 6

SG---0--15--12--7 = 34

VHS--6--0---0---0 = 6

TEAM TOTALS

YARDAGE (rush+pass): SG 442 (284+158), VHS 269 (81+188)

RUSHING att.-yards (avg.): SG 46-284 (6.2) 5TD; VHS 32-81 (2.5)

PASSES comp-att-int, yds. (TD): SG 9-12-0, 158 yds. (+PAT); VHS 11-29-2, 188 yds. (TD)

SACKS allowed: SG 1, VHS 1

TD: SG 5 rush, VHS 1 pass

PAT: SG 3-5 (kick 2-3, run 0-1, pass 1-1); VHS 0-1 (pass 0-1)

TOTAL PLAYS: SG 58, VHS 612

YARDS per PLAY: SG 7.6, VHS 4.4

FUMBLES - LOST: SG 3-1, VHS 4-0

TURNOVERS: SG 1, VHS 2

PENALTIES: SG 4-40, VHS 5-41

3rd downs: SG 7-13, VHS 4-13

4th downs: SG 1-2, VHS 1-5

Red zone: SG 4-4, VHS 0-3

First downs: SG 17, VHS 14

Plays of 20+ yards: SG 4, VHS 3

>>INDIVIDUALS:

RUSHING: Alex Folz 25-215, 4TD, long 97; Cullen Patterson 14-83, TD, long 29; Tyler Kersten 4-4; Noah Elton 1-(-2); Chandler Bergrud 2-(-15); Team knee 1-(-1)

PASSING: Alex Folz 9-12-0, 158; Noah Elton PAT

RECEIVING: Noah Elton 4-98, long 69; Sam Sanness 2-30, long 18; Adin Solum 1-15; Cullen Patterson 2-15; Ethan Matzke PAT

PUNTING: Alex Folz 2-46 (23.0 avg.); Team (block) 1-2

XP KICKING: Alex Folz 2-3

INTERCEPTIONS: Noah Elton 1-24, Adin Solum 1-2

PASS BREAKUPS: Taylor Holty 1, Luke Schneider 1, Alex Folz 1, Adin Solum 1, Noah Elton 1, Cullen Patterson 1

BLOCKED PUNT: Sam Sanness 1

FUMBLE RECOVERIES: none

FUMBLES FORCED: George Boyd 1

SACKS: Sam Sanness 1.0

TACKLES for LOSS (incl. sacks): Sam Sanness 2.0, Adin Solum 1.0, Calvin Sylling 1.0, Reese Crouch 1.0, Wyatt Murphy 0.5, Ethan Matzke 0.5, Kyle Hagen 0.5, Taylor Holty 0.5

TACKLES (solo+assists): Cullen Patterson 8 (6+2), Noah Elton 8 (5+3), Taylor Holty 8 (1+7), Adin Solum 7 (6+1), Sam Sanness 7 (3+4), Alex Folz 6 (2+4), George Boyd 5 (2+3), Reese Crouch 4 (2+2), Ethan Matzke 4 (1+3), Luke Schneider 3 (1+2), Calvin Sylling 1 (1+0), Tyler Kersten 1 (1+0), Wyatt Murphy 1 (0+1), Kyle Hagen 1 (0+1)

KICKOFF RETURN: Adin Solum 2-22

PUNT RETURNS: Sam Sanness (block) 1-16

SCORING: Folz 26, C. Patterson 6, Matzke 2

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Spring Grove Varsity Football

12 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

STATE: Spring Grove 34, Verndale 6

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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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