BLUE EARTH - The Minnesota State High School League moved Blue Earth Area from the Class AA football playoffs to Class AAA during the offseason.
No problem. Randy Kuechenmeister's Bucs, who captured the Section 3 championship in Class AA in 2011, literally took a giant step up Friday night by capturing the Section 3 crown - in Class AAA, this time.
Senior middle linebacker Carter Hanson and Blue Earth Area's smothering defense delivered a shutout, while quarterback Kysten Zierke and receiver Isaac Darrington connected for three touchdowns to engineer a 35-0 triumph over the Tri-City United Titans at Wilson Field in Blue Earth.
NEAR INTERCEPTION — Blue Earth Area safety Dallas Barslou (left) fully extends to nearly intercept Tri-City United quarterback Ted Christian’s (not shown) pass intended for Titan receiver Alex Turgeon (8) during the Section 3AAA championship football game Friday night at Wilson Field in Blue Earth. Unfortunately, Barslou lost control of the ball when he later hit the ground. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
The undefeated and Class AAA, No. 2-ranked Bucs (10-0) advance to face defending state champion and No. 3-ranked St. Croix Lutheran (9-1) in the state quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at Lakeville North High School's gridiron. St. Croix Lutheran qualified for state by throttling Cannon Falls, 61-21, for the Section 4 championship.
Tri-City United, a first-year combined program between Montgomery- Lonsdale and Le Center, closed out a stellar season with an 8-3 overall record.
"Our defense really set the early tone, and our offense took it from there by putting points on the board," said Kuechenmeister. "I'm very proud of every player on this team for what they've accomplished tonight."
TCU 0 0 0 0 - 0
BEA 14 6 8 7 - 35
BEA - Kysten Zierke 1 run (kick blocked), 7:57.
BEA - Isaac Darrington 46 pass from Zierke (Dallas Barslou pass from Zierke), 3:39.
BEA - Darrington 51 pass from Zierke (run failed), 2:23.
BEA - Darrington 23 pass from Zierke (Steven Plocker pass from Zierke), 0:48.
BEA - Calvin Sanders 3 run (Felix Harseim kick), 3:42.
First downs: B.E. Area 15; Tri-City United 6. Rushing: B.E. Area 46-215; TCU 19-34. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Yards): B.E. Area 8-18-1-158; TCU 13-31-2-136. Fumbles-lost: B.E. Area 1-0; TCU 2-1. Penalties: B.E. Area 8-53; TCU 8-67.
Offense: Rushing: Gus Phillips (BEA) 11-88, Zierke (BEA) 16-45, Sanders (BEA) 6-43; Austin Buss (TCU) 8-23. Passing: Zierke (BEA) 8-18-1-158; Ted Christian (TCU) 13-31-2-136. Receiving: Darrington (BEA) 5-127, Barslou (BEA) 1-22, Plocker (BEA) 1-9; Alex Turgeon (TCU) 4-65, Pat Lloyd (TCU) 4-49.
Defense: Fumble recovery: Greg Claeys (BEA). Interceptions: Pat Lloyd (TCU), Nick Beattie (BEA), David Franta (BEA).
Flanker Gus Phillips, whose family made the move from Le Center to Blue Earth during the offseason, proved the proverbial thorn in his former team's side from the sectional finale's opening kickoff.
The fleet-footed Phillips reeled off a 25-yard return to the Bucs' 35 to lay the groundwork for a 10-play, 65-yard scoring march.
Phillips motored around left end for a 16-yard gain on a sweep run before Zierke later broke three tackles to grind out 11 more yards inside Titan territory.
Zierke, who completed 8 of 18 passes for 158 yards, later went to the air by lofting a perfect 22-yard strike over the middle to split end Dallas Barslou to reach the TCU 1. Zierke hammered through the middle for the 6-0 lead with 7:57 left in the opening quarter.
The shoulder pad-rattling Hanson and Phillips stiffened during the Titans' initial possession, forcing TCU to punt after picking up its first of only six first downs on the entire game.
Zierke needed only three snaps to reach the end zone again - this time through the air.
"I wouldn't mind being known as a passing quarterback," the hard-to-bring-down 205-pound Zierke said with a laugh.
Zierke threaded the needle on a perfect 'go' route to the long-striding Darrington, who sprinted 46 yards for the first of his three TDs on the sectional showdown. Zierke then zipped a 2-point conversion pass to Barslou to extend the Bucs' margin to 14-0 with 3:39 left in the first frame.
Once again, Hanson seemingly filled each and every running lane in recording back-to-back tackles to help create another TCU punting situation after three snaps.
In fact, Blue Earth Area's swarming 4-3 defense held TCU to only 62 yards of total offense during the first half, including just 12 yards on a dozen carries.
After the two teams traded defensive stands, Buc down linemen Micah Twedt, Brad More, Greg Claeys and Steven Plocker combined to stymie the Titan offense for yet another three-and-out series with the first half winding down.
After regaining possession on a downed punt, it took the Blue Earth Area offense only six plays to cover 83 yards to widen the gap to 20 points with 2:23 left before intermission.
Phillips, who topped all rushers with 88 yards on 11 carries, sped around right end on a 12-yard toss play before Zierke went to the passing game. Zierke fired a 9-yarder to Plocker before Phillips' 6-yard run reached the Bucs' 49.
Zierke then unloaded a 51-yard missile to a stretched-out Darrington along the right hashmark for a 20-0 lead. Darrington went on to make a game-leading five receptions for an incredible 127 yards.
Blue Earth Area's defense then garnered three second-half turnovers, with the Buc offense converting two takeaways into insurance points.
Plocker's football-jolting hit led to Claeys' fumble recovery at the TCU 23 with time winding down in the third quarter.
Zierke and Darrington dialed long distance for a third time in the game as the junior signal-caller hit the 6-foot-4 senior receiver in stride for the 23-yard TD catch. Plocker then hauled in Zierke's 2-point spiral for a 28-0 lead with 48 seconds to go in the third.
Nick Beattie pocketed an interception for the Bucs during the ensuing series, but linebacker John Christian and the Titan defense held to take over on downs at their own 45.
David Franta, however, returned his ensuing pickoff from near his own goal line to the Bucs' 40 to help set up Calvin Sanders' 3-yard series-capping TD run. Felix Harseim's PAT kick made it 35-0 with 3:42 left in regulation.
Sanders finished with 43 yards on only six totes.