LINDSTROM - A bizarre start to the second half turned into a dream scenario for the Minneota Vikings and a nightmare for their opponents, Moose Lake/Willow River during a MSHSL Class 2A Football State Tournament quarterfinal game Friday at Chisago Lakes Stadium.
Despite the cold weather, the Vikings elected to keep their halftime huddle outside on the field while Moose Lake went into the locker rooms. In a lapse of timekeeping, the Rebels, who were ahead 20-10 at the half, didn't make it out on to the field until Minneota was nearly lined up and ready to go for their kick return.
The delay caused a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Rebels and robbed them of their warm up time in a game that featured light sleet, rain and near freezing temperatures.
Minneota took full advantage of stiff Moose Lake defense, scoring on their second play of the second half on a 40-yard run and out-scoring the Rebels 21-0 in the last 24 minutes of the game to win 31-20 and advance to the state semifinals to face Maple Lake.
The Vikings led off the game with a pooch kick to the right side of the field where there was an opening on the Moose Lake-Willow River return team.?Nathan Pavek jumped on the loose ball for Minneota and they started their first possession in Moose Lake territory.
On a fourth and two, quarterback Austin Buysse found an open receiver for a bobbling catch down to the 25 yard line. Pavek followed that up with a run to the eight yard line.?After three failed shots at the end zone, the Vikings settled for a field goal from Diego Meza-Palmer.
On Moose Lake's first drive, they used their patented misdirection runs, mixing in traps, counters and double handoffs to move the ball near midfield. They faced a fourth and one on Minneota's 46 yard line until an illegal procedure sent them back to midfield and a fourth and six. The Rebels went for it, but were stopped short of the first down marker.
Minneota's ensuing drive was a three and out, and that's when the Rebels went to work. Their burly fullback, 6'3", 230 pound Dylan Lovegreen, bulled his way down the field, and eventually the Rebels capped the drive with a two-yard touchdown plunge by?Josh Petterson, taking a 6-3 lead. Their two-point conversion try was no good.
On Minneota's next drive, they began to use a little misdirection of their own, leaning heavily on counter plays. Cole Hennen was the beneficiary, and after a long gain brought the ball into Moose Lake's redzone, Hennen finished the drive off with an eight yard touchdown run on a counter to the right. The extra point by Meza-Palmer split the uprights and Minneota was back on top 10-6.
Both teams traded possessions without finding much traction after that.?Moose Lake took the lead, however, after they drove the ball to midfield and faced a fourth and inches. Everyone in the stadium thought the ball was going to Lovegreen, but the Rebels ran a fake to him and countered the ball to Jon Evenson, a 195 pound speedster. He raced to the left sideline untouched and made one cut back towards the middle of the field with a Minneota defender closing in on him and galloped to a 47-yard touchdown run. Moose Lake's ensuing two-point conversion was good, putting the Rebels up 14-10.
Minneota's offense was unable to answer that score, going three and out on their next drive with Buysse and his receivers just a bit out of sync. The defense stepped up though and forced a punt from the Rebels, starting the Minneota offense near their own 20 with just over two minutes before halftime.
With their air attack, the Vikings began trying to move down the field quickly to get in position to score before the half was out. However, with the five- and seven-step drops by Buysse, he was open to some big hits that left him laying on the turf, writhing in pain.
The crescendo to the pain came when he was drilled on an incomplete pass on his own 30-yard line and he had to come out of the game, grasping at his ribs and abdomen in severe pain.
Then disaster struck for the Vikings. With running back Alec Engler taking the reins at quarterback and only 40 seconds left in the half on their own 30, Minneota was content to hand the ball off on a sweep play. However, the exchange between Engler and the running back was bobbled and it popped loose. Evenson scooped the ball up and broke two tackles and ran clear to the end zone for a 25 yard Moose Lake touchdown with only 30 seconds left to go in the half. The two-point conversion fell short, but the damage was done and the Minneota sideline and supporters were shell-shocked.
"The one shot, I got my arm caught under me and it hurt,"?Buysse said after the game. "I couldn't breath and was just coughing. Some of that was on me though, I have to get rid of the ball."
At half, Moose Lake went inside the building, inducing their time-keeping gaffe.
Then the bizarre timing happened with Minneota players warming up and nearing ready to receive the kick, but Moose Lake players nowhere to be found. The Rebels weren't able to warm up and received the subsequent 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on their kickoff.
The Vikings then took off in the second half. It took only two plays for them to score, a 40-yard touchdown scamper from Pavek down the right side of the field. That pulled the Vikings to within four at 20-16 after the extra point was wide left.
The defense sensed the momentum shift and followed suit, forcing a three and out from the Moose Lake offense.
That's when Buysse started doing his work. He carved up the Moose Lake secondary on the drive, and on fourth and three from the three yard line, Buysse hit Hennen on a perfectly executed pick play, leaving Hennen wide open at the goalline. The score put Minneota back on top 23-20 with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Minneota defense then came up huge again, picking off a pass from MLWR's Brad Fossum at their own 29 yard line and setting the Vikings offense up for the game-icing score.
Again, it was Buysse doing his best work through the air and Jeff Gladis producing some punishing runs for the Vikes as they moved effortlessly down the field. On third and six from the eight, Buysse connected with Engler for an eight-yard touchdown pass and the Vikings stretched their lead to 31-20 with eight minutes left after a successful two point conversion.
The rest of the way, Minneota's defense was able to pressure MLWR, knowing they had to pass the ball to conserve time. Minneota got the ball one more time and was able to burn the clock down, leaving the Rebels without much to work with. The comeback was complete when Moose Lake completed a pass in bounds and the clocked hit zero, sending the Minneota players and fans into a frenzy and leaving the MLWR players dejected and heartbroken after a dominant second half by the Vikes.
The transformation at halftime wasn't some magic trick or drastic adjustment. It was just correcting a few things that weren't going their way in the first.
"We made one line blocking adjustment on one play," offensive coordinator Matt Myrvik said. "Other than that, the first half was a lot of mental mistakes. One guy not doing what he was supposed to or the pass blocking call was wrong on the line.?So those things added up. I'm proud of how they battled back in the second half and corrected those mistakes.?We kept Moose Lake off balance."
Buysse added, "We stuck to the gameplan.?We didn't play our game in the first half. Our line picked it up and everyone picked it up. Moose Lake had a great defense but we just had to find a way."
After the game, Buysse said he was still a bit sore from the big hits he took, but he was confident that he'll play next week, and he doesn't blame his offensive line one bit. "The O-line does a heck of a job," he said. "I haven't gotten hit all year, I can take a few shots for our team. I'll be fine."
As for next week, the Vikings will take on Maple Lake, 28-10 winners over Pine Island in the state quarterfinals. But they don't expect anything to be different. "?We expect to go out and play our style of football,"?Myrvik said. "With the way we play, we expect to win the state championship."