LUVERNE - Both the Marshall Tigers and Luverne Cardinals entered Wednesday night undefeated and with a shot at the Southwest Conference crown. After 48 minutes, however, no one could question the Tigers' place atop the conference as they powered past the Cardinals 41-14 to claim their third consecutive conference title and second outright.
The sixth-ranked (Class AAAA) Tigers defied resolute winds on their opening drive to start the scoring. After fullback Colton Citrowske bulled his way four yards to convert on fourth down, Rhett Struve dashed 25 yards on the ensuing handoff for Marshall's first touchdown with eight minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Tanner Cirks split the wind and the uprights on the extra point attempt to bring the score to 7-0.
"I think momentum wise that was huge, going into the wind and scoring," Marshall head coach Terry Bahlmann said. "It changed the whole strategy of the game. Colton had a couple big runs to get the first first down out of there for us, really tough runs. And then we were able to break a couple. Momentum went our way and our guys stayed after it and were able to keep pounding the football."
Photo by Travis Andries
Marshall fullback Colton Citrowske (15) races past the Luverne defense during Wednesday’s Southwest Conference game in Luverne. Citrowske rushed for 137 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of Marshall’s 41-14 victory.
Marshall wouldn't wait long to strike again.
On Luverne's first offensive play from scrimmage, Marshall linebacker Alex Werner forced a Skyler Wenninger fumble, which was recovered by Jared Holland. On the very next play, Struve picked up his second touchdown of the game on a 43-yard run at the 7:50 mark.
With a rout in the making, the Cardinals (7-1 overall, 5-1 Southwest Conference) showed the intangibles that had helped them to a 7-0 start.
Using a two-quarterback system, the fifth-ranked (Class AA) Cardinals put the ball in the hands of Wenninger and fellow quarterback Brett Heronimus as they nickle and dimed their way down the field. Wenninger would ultimately score from six yards out after receiving an option pitch from Heronimus. The Cardinals then successfully converted on a two-point try when Wenninger found Heronimus wide open in the end zone.
But the Tigers were unwilling to let Luverne crawl back into the game and scored on their next possession when Citrowske, Marshall's leading rusher in the game with 137 yards, scored on a 59-yard run. After stepping into a wide-open hole, Citrowske bounced off of a Luverne linebacker and meandered his way down the field for the touchdown. Cirks was unable to defy the wind on his third PAT try of the quarter, which never made it to the uprights. Nevertheless, Marshall had a 20-8 lead with 1:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Following Citrowske's touchdown, the Tigers recovered a near perfect onside kick as Cirks rolled the ball the requisite 10 yards before pouncing on it. The move paid off, as the Tigers flipped sides of the field and drove with seeming ease to score their fourth touchdown of the game. Brock Baumgarn punched the ball in from a yard out for the first of two scores on the night at 10:44 left in the half.
As a team, Marshall outgained Luverne 346 yards to 148 on the ground. It wasn't the most lopsided total of the season for the Tigers, but against the equally physical Cardinals, Marshall was able to secure the title of best team and toughest running team in the conference.
"We knew the battle was going to be on the line," senior captain, linebacker, and right guard Alex Werner said. "It was all about coming in, being physical, beating them off the ball and just doing our thing. We knew coming in that they were big, and obviously we are big, so we knew that we had to fire off quicker, be lower, and do everything right. Do what we're taught. We practice it every day. We know what we need to do and just execute."
Along with Citrowske, Struve also eclipsed the 100-yard mark as he finished with 109 yards. Quarterback Austin Saugstad also rushed for 69 yards.
"Last week I thought we really played well in the first quarter," Bahlmann said. "We pulled our starters there and we wanted to build off that. We've been doing a lot of hitting in practice just to keep that energy level and physicality that we had early in the year, and I think we've been able to do that and might have played our best football game tonight as a whole."
Baumgarn helped preserve the Tigers 27-8 lead when he ended a Cardinal drive with an interception of Heronimus. Marshall did not cash in on the second Luverne turnover though, as Cirks missed a 42-yard field goal attempt with seven second remaining in the half, but would redeem himself plus four points after the break.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Saugstad got loose on a safety blitz and jarred the ball free from Heronimus. Cirks picked the ball up and bolted 22 yards for the touchdown, effectively securing Marshall's third win in a row over Luverne and the conference title.
"The scoop and score to start the second half was a huge play," Bahlmann said. "Coach (Blaine) Schnaible had a nice blitz scheme, a safety blitz for us there, and we were able to hit it on time. Saugstad knocked the ball loose and Tanner scooped and scored and kind of iced the game right there."
The Tigers kept their starters in for the rest of the third quarter, which included a Baumgarn 2-yard touchdown, and allowed their 25 seniors to soak up as much of their third conference title as possible.
"It's a special thing since a lot of us got some time our sophomore year and were able to contribute to that team," Werner said. "Now we've been able to win it three years in a row. It's a big thing for us seniors especially."
For Saugstad, also a senior captain, the win over Luverne feels like the first mission accomplished of many more the Tigers.
"It feels really good. It means a lot," Saugstad said. "We put a lot of time in. This was one of our goals early on in the offseason and this is what we worked for and we accomplished it."
The Tigers (8-0, 6-0) now await their opening opponent of the Section 2AAAA playoffs. In all likelihood, the Tigers will host the Mankato East Cougars, whom they defeated 42-7 during the 2012 season's opening week, on Tuesday at Mattke Field in Marshall.
Marshall 20 7 14 0-41
Luverne 8 0 0 6-14
M-Rhett Struve 25 run (Tanner Cirks kick), 8:22
M-Struve 43 run (Cirks kick), 7:50
L-Skyler Wenninger 6 run (Brett Heronimus pass good from Wenninger), 3:28
M-Colton Citrowske 59 run (kick failed), 1:04
M-Brock Baumgarn 1 run (Cirks kick), 10:44
M-Cirks 22 fumble return (Cirks kick), 11:43
M-Baumgarn 2 run (Cirks kick), 5:59
L-Kendall Meyer 8 run (kick failed), 2:51
Rushing: M-Colton Citrowske 13-137, Rhett Struve 8-109, Austin Saugstad 9-69; L-Eli Dooyema 7-61, Andrew Verhey 5-20, Gunnar Olson 2-19, Skyler Wenninger 6-14.
Passing (comp-att-yards-int): M-Saugstad 2-5-33-0; L-Brett Heronimus 3-5-36-1, Wenninger 2-6-17-0, Kendall Meyer 2-2-5-0.
Receiving: M-Aaron Mathiowetz 2-33, Struve 1-2; L-Wyatt Aubert 2-23, Heronimus 2-17, Wenninger 1-13.
Tackles: M-Campbell Hofstetter 4, Austin Nath 4, Stephen Womack 3.5, Brock Baumgarn 3, Sam Marshall 3; L-N/A.
Sacks: M-Nath 2, Cirks 1, Saugstad 1; L-N/A.
INT: M-Baumgarn; L-none.
FR: M-Cirks 2, Jared Holland; L-none.