MINNEAPOLIS - Gus Phillips and David Franta put a pair of exclamation marks on Blue Earth Area's perfect prep football season on Saturday at the Metrodome.
Phillips delivered a dominating defensive performance by blocking both a first-quarter field-goal attempt and a third-quarter punt.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound end also recorded a game-best nine tackles, including three quarterback sacks en route to five stops for a loss of 36 yards.
WALL OF BLOCKERS — Blue Earth Area’s Carter Hanson (3) follows his wall of blockers Greg Claeys (second from left), Seth Anderson (79), Quinn Huisman (80) and Justin Ritter (44) during Saturday’s Class AAA state championship football game at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The Bucs went on to defeat Rochester Lourdes, 30-7, for the state crown. Photo by Leanna Becker
Meanwhile, Franta shredded numerous tackle attempts to generate a game-leading 144 rushing yards and two touchdowns to bookend the Bucs' 30-7 triumph over the Rochester Lourdes Eagles in the Class AAA state championship game in Minneapolis.
"It's a little overwhelming at this moment. Never in my wildest imagination did I think we'd win 13 games in a row to win the state championship," said Blue Earth Area mentor Randy Kuechenmeister, who guided the program to its first-ever state football crown via a 13-0 record. "It's been an unbelievable year. Our kids have worked hard all season and are incredibly unselfish. Each and every one of them epitomize what the team concept is all about."
The Bucs' airtight defense managed to stonewall the Eagles' potent run-oriented offense despite Lourdes' outstanding starting field position at its own 37, midfield, Blue Earth Area's 43 and its own 40, respectively, to open the Prep Bowl showdown.
After Lourdes quarterback Mark Pagel delivered a perfect strike to tight end Kyle Kapraun for a 40-yard completion to reach the Blue Earth Area 4, tackle Brad More and the Buc defense stiffened on first-and-goal.
More halted two consecutive runs to back the Eagles to the 5 before Pagel had a pass in the end zone dropped to create a 22-yard field-goal chance for Michael Brandt. The hard-charging Phillips blasted through the heart of the Lourdes line and blocked the 3-point attempt to keep the game scoreless with 1:10 left in the first quarter.
"He (Phillips) makes things happen on defense. He's so quick off the end, it's difficult for the (special teams) blockers to get to him," said Kuechenmeister.
Phillips then delivered his initial quarterback sack on a third-and-10 to force an Eagles' punt during the ensuing series.
End Khoa Nguyen countered for Lourdes' defense during the Bucs' next possession to keep the shutout intact with time winding down in the opening half.
Franta, however, ended the scoring drought with 3:12 remaining before intermission. The junior flanker took quarterback Kysten Zierke's toss around left end, waited for split end Isaac Darrington's seal block and sprinted 80 yards down the Buc sideline for the championship game's first TD.
Not sooner than Felix Harseim's PAT had staked Blue Earth Area to a 7-0 lead, Lourdes sophomore fullback Griff Slightam countered with a long scoring run just 20 seconds later.
Slightam took a toss from Pagel to the right side, broke a tackle, hurdled another defender and scampered 67 yards to paydirt. Brandt kicked the PAT to knot the game at 7-all.
With time winding down before halftime, Kuechenmeister utilized Nick Beattie's state sprinter's speed in a receiving role.
After Zierke pounded out 16 yards on the ground to reach Lourdes' territory at the 47, Kuechenmeister went to the airwaves.
Zierke threaded the needle to Carter Hanson on a 7-yard screen before lofting up a 33-yard strike to the fleet-footed Beattie to reach the 7 with 25 seconds remaining.
"We're turning him (Beattie) loose on this play," Buc assistant coach Logan Becker said in reference to the last-second long-range missile.
After Zierke spiked the football, the junior quarterback fired a 7-yard spiral to Darrington for the first of his two Prep Bowl TD catches for a 13-7 edge with only 15 seconds left in the first half.
Phillips, Franta and the Blue Earth Area defense dominated the entire second half, limiting Lourdes to zero first downs and a minus-27 yards of total offense for the final 24 minutes.
Hanson & Co. jarred loose the third-quarter kickoff from the Eagles' returner and Franta recovered the fumble at the Lourdes' 21.
Four snaps later, Harseim drilled a 36-yard field goal to extend the Bucs' margin to 16-7.
Hanson, who closed out his outstanding prep football career with seven tackles, delivered a quarterback sack two defensive series later before Phillips recorded another special-teams gem.
Phillips motored around the left end, fought off a block and extended full out to block Lourdes' ensuing punt with his left hand. More pounced on the carom on the Eagles' 14 to set up Darrington's 11-yard TD reception from Zierke. Harseim's kick put the Bucs in the driver's seat at 23-7 with 6:06 left in the third.
Franta's stop for a 4-yard loss, followed by Phillips' sack for another negative 13, forced Lourdes to punt again.
Hanson and Franta each delivered pivotal 15-yard runs to march Blue Earth Area to the end zone one last time. Franta's 6-yard tackle-breaking blast through the left side and Harseim's kick gave the Bucs an insurmountable 30-7 lead with 11:57 left in regulation.
Phillips added another sack for a loss of 14 more yards midway through the fourth frame to put the finishing touches on Blue Earth Area's victory and perfect season.
RL 0 7 0 0 - 7
BEA 0 13 10 7 - 30
BEA - David Franta 80 run (Felix Harseim kick), 3:12.
RL - Griff Slightam 67 run (Michael Brandt kick), 2:52.
BEA - Isaac Darrington 7 pass from Kysten Zierke (kick failed), 0:15.
BEA - Harseim 36 FG, 10:29.
BEA - Darrington 11 pass from Zierke (Harseim kick), 6:06.
BEA - Franta 6 run (Harseim kick), 11:57.
First downs: B.E. Area 11; Rochester Lourdes 3. Rushing: B.E. Area 42-270; Lourdes 32-58. Passing: B.E. Area 6-14-0-70; Lourdes 4-14-0-59. Fumbles-lost: B.E. Area 3-1; Lourdes 1-1. Penalties: B.E. Area 6-30; Lourdes 0-0.
Offense: Rushing: Franta (BEA) 13-144, Zierke (BEA) 12-61; Slightam (RL) 6-78. Passing: Zierke (BEA) 6-14-0-70; Mark Pagel (RL) 4-14-0-59. Receiving: B.E. Area: Darrington 2-18, Steven Plocker 2-12, Nick Beattie 1-33, Carter Hanson 1-7. Lourdes: Kyle Kapraun 1-40, Slightam 1-12, James Randle 1-5, McKay Carstens 1-2.
Defense: Fumble recovery: Franta (BEA), Connor Greguson (RL). Recovered blocked punt: Brad More (BEA). Blocked punt: Gus Phillps (BEA). Blocked FG: Phillips (BEA). Tackles: Phillips (BEA) 9, Hanson (BEA) 7; Brandt (RL) 6.