Tigers face Cloquet at state Friday in St. Cloud
BY DAVE PEDERSEN
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
A large collective gasp was shouted out at Delano stadium as the football slipped through the grasp of Damon Longstreet in the final minutes of the Class 4A, Section 5 tournament Friday.
The play momentarily put the game against Becker in doubt until junior Brady Miller intercepted a pass at the goal line and a 20-14 victory was secured, sending the Tigers to the state tournament for the first time since 2006.
“I messed up and my teammates picked me up,” said Longstreet, a key play on offense and defense this season. “We got the interception and got the win. That is all that matters.”
The win sends Delano to the first round of the Class 4A state tournament starting at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8 against Cloquet at St. Cloud State University. The winner advances to the semifinals at the Metrodome, 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 against either defending state champ Hutchinson or South St. Paul. The state title game would be at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29 at the dome.
Delano improved to 9-1 on the season, avenging a 21-13 loss to Becker in last year’s section title contest. The opposite happened this time around when Delano built an early 20-8 lead before almost letting it slip away.
“We knew it would be a tough game,” adds Longstreet. “They came out in the second half like we knew they would and it was a battle all the way. We had great energy the whole way.”
Outside of the nerve-racking moment, Longstreet was a major contributor by catching two long passes for a total of 64 yards, had five tackles on defense and provided hole-opening blocks for the dominating Tiger ground attack.
Senior Jack Nelson rushed 22 times for 145 yards and had touchdown runs of 16 and 22 yards. The other score was on a 10-yard pass from quarterback Toby Hanson to receiver Adam Kraft.
Kraft caught three passes for 26 yards and was in on nine tackles as a defensive back. Hanson was 6 of 12 passing for 114 yards and a score.
“We were relieved when we won the game,” said Hanson, who will play at the state tournament in his third different sport. He played in three state baseball tournaments and one in basketball. “We just want to win football games and it doesn’t matter how we are doing it. We had had worked so hard and we stuck together. The whole defense played an unbelievable game.”
Becker ran more plays than Delano, but the defense played well, according to coach Merrill Pavlovich. Key to the defense was the play of cornerbacks and brothers Brett and Seth Norling. Brett, a junior, had nine tackles and Seth, a senior, had seven.
“This is the one game we told our two corners that we are not going to help you,” notes Pavlovich, adding how the linebackers were needed to shore up against the effective Becker running attack. “We put those kids on an island and they did very well.”
Both brothers started the last two years. Brett is the younger but bigger of the two and also helped on offense. Against Becker he rushed five times for 32 yards and caught one pass for 23 yards. A long run was called back after the official blew an inadvertent whistle.
Aaron Wagner gained 22 yards on four carries and was in on 11 tackles. Sawyer Thommes also had 11 tackles, while Christian Triplett had nine, Carl Schaefbauer seven and Zach Linden six. Ninth-grader Evan Tolkkinen was 2 for 2 on extra point attempts and is 37 for 45 on the season.
Pavlovich praised the play of the offensive linemen, including brothers Walker and Wyatt Russek, Ben Jacobs, Kevin Kneisl and Triplett.
This is the first time Delano has gone to state since being moved up to Class 4A a few years ago. Pavlovich said he knows little about Cloquet other than it is a very big team that runs a diverse offense and has 24 seniors. Cloquet went to state last year and avenged a loss to Hermantown in the section title game last week.
Longstreet adds, “It feels good to get to state, but we’re not done yet. We’re going for that state title.”