The Albany Huskies had qualified for the state playoffs 19 times before Saturday night, but hadn’t been there since 2010.
They returned to prep football’s elite eight in Class 3A by beating the Montevideo Thunder Hawks 42-13 at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium.
“It’s been a while,” said Albany senior Brody Bierbaum, a key component to an offensive line that rambled for 360 yards rushing on 66 carries. “It’s a childhood dream.”
Three big moments helped top-seeded Albany (9-1) earn the Section 6-3A title over second-seeded Montevideo (9-2). The third-ranked Huskies play top-ranked Pierz (10-0) in the state 3A quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Saturday at SCSU.
Kyle Birr scored on a one-yard touchdown plunge with one second remaining in the first half. Taylor Fourre’s extra-point kick gave Albany a 21-7 lead.
“That set up the rest of the game,” said Fourre, the Huskies’ senior quarterback who rushed 19 times for 92 yards and two touchdowns. “And it really gave us a boost going into halftime.”
A bad snap sailed over Montevideo punter Hever Valenzuela’s head and into the end zone. Valenzuela then kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety. That put Albany up 23-13 with 5:35 to go in the third quarter.
On the free kick from its own 20, Birr took the high punt and ran 61 yards for a touchdown. The PAT made it 30-13.
“That was a huge momentum swing,” Albany head coach Mike Kleinschmidt said.
It made Montevideo’s big-play passing game less scary to the Huskies. Senior quarterback Troy Diggins, still completed 9 of 23 passes for 220 yards and two long touchdowns.
He did throw three interceptions. Josh Terres, Jonathan Bauer and Max Carlson all had picks for the Huskies.
But, Albany did like it has for the past 50 years. It ground out the running game behind a big offensive line and a talented tailback.
Birr wound up with 207 yards rushing on 31 carries and four touchdowns, counting the kick return.
“He had a lot of good runs and a lot of clutch ones,” Fourre said. “Obviously, our offensive line opened up some holes, too.”
Montevideo, meanwhile, rushed for zero yards on 15 carries. It was the biggest stat of the night.
A — Kyle Birr 8 run (Taylor Fourre kick)
M — Travis Dreyer 23 pass from Troy Diggins (Hever Valenzuela kick)
A — Birr 43 run (Fourre kick)
A — Birr 1 run (Fourre kick)
M — Preston Herfurth 51 pass from Diggins (kick failed)
A — Safety, punter kicks ball out of back of end zone
A — Birr 61 free kick return (Fourre kick)
A — Fourre 1 run (kick failed)
A — Fourre 2 run (kick failed)
Rushing: M — Hunter Ward 3-8, Reece Kuhlmann 2-7, Ethan Schmitt 2-4, Herfurth 1-0, Bailey Eickhoff 1-0, Isaac Hoogeveen 1-(-1), Dreyer 1-(-4), Diggins 4-(-14). Total: 15-0. A — Birr 31-207, Fourre 19-92, Will Kleinschmidt 10-27, Gabe Haakonson 3-20, Max Carlson 1-7, Derek Mellesmoen 1-2, Parker Rieland 1-2, Alex Wolf 1-(-1). Total: 66-360.
Passing: M — Diggins 9-23-3 220. A — Fourre 1-3-0 19, Kleinschmidt 0-1-0 0.
Receiving: M — Dreyer 3-64, Isaac Douglas 3-53, Herfurth 2-94, Riley Emery 1-9. A — Robbie Benson 1-19.
Follow Tom Elliott on Twitter @sctimestom or call 259-3661.