It started right away and predictably if you follow the boys in the blue and white uniforms.
Sartell ran the ball effectively from the get-go. The Sabres owned the line of scrimmage and ate up the clock.
By the end of the night, Sartell had beaten Moorhead 24-19 to win the Section 8-5A title Saturday night at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium.
The Sabres did have to hold off a late Spuds’ rally, finally clinching it when Mickey Kutz intercepted a pass in the end zone with 50 seconds to play.
“The coaches said we had to dominate the line of scrimmage and I think we did that,” Sartell senior lineman T.J. Bevans said.
Indeed. Junior running back Darek Stachowski had another impressive statistical day, gaining 264 yards and scoring one touchdown on 44 carries.
“It’s just kind of my part of the team that I contribute,” Stachowski said.
Meanwhile, the Sabres mixed in the pass just enough to keep the Spuds (7-4) off balance. Junior quarterback Brandon Snoberger completed seven of 16 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns, both 20-yarders, one to Jackson Miller and one to Alex Haima.
Haima’s was the catch of the night. Closely defended, he tipped the ball while reaching for it in the end zone, then came down with it as he and the defender landed together entangled on the artificial turf. It gave the Sabres a 24-7 lead with 8:59 to play that proved to be insurmountable for the Spuds.
“That’s the best catch I’ve made in my life,” Haima said.
Sartell is back in the state tournament for the first time since 2009. The Sabres (8-3) play St. Michael-Albertville at 7 p.m. Thursday at Husky Stadium in the first round of the state Class 5A playoffs. At stake there is a semifinal berth in the Metrodome.
“It’s great,” Haima said. “I don’t know how else to describe it.
“It’s one of the best feelings in sports. A dream experience is how I would describe it.”
Moorhead was in its fourth straight section final. The Spuds had won the previous two, beating Sartell in the final last year after being down at halftime.
Moorhead had another rally in it, getting three second-half touchdown passes from Tyler Eidsness, two to Brett Lawrence and one to Jade Lawrence.
Brett Lawrence wound up with six catches for 85 yards; Jade had four for 53. But the Spuds couldn’t run. They wound up with 84 yards rushing on 23 carries after being held to 20 yards on nine carries in the first half.
“We just didn’t play very good football in the first half,” Moorhead head coach Kevin Feeney said. “The kids needed to realize that some of the issue was self-inflicted.
“They showed their character in the second half. It’s a good-character group of kids.”
The Spuds cut the lead to 24-19 with 3:25 left. Brett Lawrence caught a 7-yarder from Eidsness to complete a 68-yard, five-play drive that took 46 seconds off the clock.
Sartell easily recovered the anticipated on-side kick, but was forced to punt after three plays. Moorhead got it back on the Spuds’ 32 with 1:48 to play and no timeouts.
The Spuds drove down to the Sartell 30 before Kutz’s interception in the end zone basically ended it.
“We did a good job running the ball the whole night,” said Scott Hentges, he earns his first state berth as a head coach after making it twice as a defensive coordinator. “And we had some big plays, Jackson Miller’s catch and Alex Haima juggling it in the end zone.
“And our defense came up big at the end. Mickey Kutz and Zach Motschke were in on that play in the end. It’s a nice victory.”
S – Riley Isaacson 25 field goal
S – Jackson Miller 20 pass from Brandon Snoberger (Isaacson kick)
M – Jade Lawrence 27 pass from Tyler Eidsness (Jacob Wiedrich kick)
S – Darek Stachowski 11 run (Isaacson kick)
S – Alex Haima 20 pass from Snoberger (Isaacson kick)
M – Brett Lawrence 6 pass from Eidsness (kick failed)
M – B. Lawrence 7 pass from Eidsness (pass failed)
Rushing: M – Eidsness 8-20, J. Lawrence 8-19, Will Rage 5-18, Drew Gotta 1-17, Jake Hass 1-10. Total: 23-84. S – Stachowski 44-264, Snoberger 6-7, Sam Neeser 1-0. Total: 51-271.
Passing: M – Eidsness 15-22-1 238. S – Snoberger 7-16-0 115, Stachowski 0-1-0 0.
Receiving: M – B. Lawrence 6-85, J. Lawrence 4-53, Mike Duginski 2-46, Jeff Richards 1-37, Tyler Fearing 1-11, Jacob Ahlgren 1-6. S – Haima 2-40, Aaron Randall 2-16, Neeser 1-33, Miller 1-20, Stachowski 1-6.