MORRIS - Minneota didn't play a perfect football game but came pretty darn close.
The Vikings overcame three turnovers, including a pick-six that accounted for Paynesville's only points, and wore down and ran down Paynesville 23-8 in the Section 5AA championship game Friday at the University of Minnesota, Morris' Big Cat Stadium.
Minneota's Jeff Gladis carried 29 times for 190 yards and two scores and the Vikings defense limited the Bulldogs high-powered, no-huddle offense to just 243 total yards.
Photo by Tom Larson, The West Central Tribune
Minneota/Lincoln HI’s Jeff Gladis runs with the ball during the Class 2A Section 3
Tournament championship game Friday at the University of Minnesota at Morris. Gladis finished with 190 yards rushing and two TDs in the Vikings’ 23-8 win vs. Paynesville.
And now the Vikings, who played in their sixth straight section title game and their first as a Class AA program, opens the state tournament against Moose Lake-Willow River on Friday at Chisago Lakes High School.
"They're just a really, really good tackling team," said Paynesville quarterback Matthew Quade, who hit 16 of 33 throws for 171 yards but was intercepted twice. "They mixed up their coverages really well and they're just a good, fundamental tackling team."
The Vikings struck first on Gladis' 16-yard TD run, but the Bulldogs' linebacker Alex Kranz stepped in front of a weak throw from Vikings quarterback Austin Buysse and returned it 50 for the score. Quade hit Andrew Topp with a pass for the two-point conversion and Paynesville led 8-7 after one quarter.
That was about all the Bulldogs could muster offensively while the game was within reach.
Gladis scored again on an 11-yard run in the second quarter to put the Vikings up 14-8, and the Minneota defense forced the first of Quade's two interceptions and worked the ball to the Paynesville six yard line with two seconds left. Simon Ankerson drilled a 25-yard field goal as the half expired for a 17-8 lead that felt like a much bigger advantage given Minneota's defensive play.
"They're just a sound football team," Quade said. "They know what they're supposed to do and they just stuck to it. They're really well coached, based on how they played tonight."
Paynesville made its season confusing defenses with its option and either getting Quade into space or gashing opponents with big pass plays. But on Friday, Quade was held to 9 rushing yards on 11 carries. Troy Spates led the Bulldogs with 54 yards on 12 carries.
"We knew our responsibilities on their option and our corners played really well," said Vikings linebacker Garrett Hennen, whose fourth-quarter interception with Paynesville driving all but clinched the game. "Their quarterback (Quade) can really throw the ball so that was big. I think we're a great team that can do whatever we want if we play well."
"Any time you can go up two scores, it's big," said Minneota offensive coordinator Matt Myrvik. "These games go pretty fast when you get going so that's a big advantage."
The teams traded possessions most of the second half, which was fine by the Vikings. Nathan Pavek's 11-yard touchdown run with 5:43 left got the party started on the Vikings' side of the field.
"We're a great football team," Gladis said. "We can play better but right now we're playing great football."