Beginning with a trio of skilled skydivers entering the stadium from above and ending with a reclamation of ‘the goods,’ the 2021 Battle Axe football game once again played out like a blockbuster action drama.

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‘The goods,’ of course were the actual Battle Axe and accompanying trophy given to the winner, Pipestone Area, which defeated Luverne 20-16 at Cardinal Stadium in Luverne.

“I’m so proud of our guys for the way they battle back; down 16-8 at half, our heads were down – I’ll be honest,” Pipestone Area head coach Scott Boomgaarden said. “We got’em back up, made some plays and got the job done.”

Although the undefeated and third-ranked (Class AA) Arrows, who sit at 6-0 with regular-season games remaining against Jackson County Central and Windom, managed to get the job done, it took some masterful misdirection to penetrate the Luverne garrison in the second half. The visitors, who gained a first down with tricky sideline confusion on a fourth down play prior to halftime – only to shoot themselves in the foot at the Cardinal 8-yard line – used a fake pitch on another fourth-down play to gain another series of downs and subsequently threw a double pass for a key first down that helped them tally the winning points with three minutes, 12 seconds remining in the third quarter. 

“It’s just stuff you practice; you rep it every week in practice for when you need it,” Boomgaarden said. “We ran a lot of it, and the kids executed well. You can look really dumb as a coach, running it, and a fake punt on our own 30-yard line probably isn’t a great call, but we needed some momentum. And we got it.” 

With their daubers down after a half that saw Luverne make an impact against its offensive and defensive lines, Pipestone Area needed not only momentum, but also adjustments to the way they’d handled the battle in the trenches. It wasn’t necessarily what the Cardinals were doing, but rather what the Arrows weren’t doing.

“We had some miscommunication in the first half, but we cleaned it up pretty well in the second half” said Pipestone Area junior lineman Jayden Hoss, who had a key stop for a loss in the fourth quarter. “It was a communication issue and a slight change in protection. They had a guy coming in way off the edge that we weren’t used to; so, we had to adjust to that.

“We definitely came out flat, but came out firing in the second half. You could see they (Cardinals) were getting tired, and that’s just energizing for us, too, when you can see the other team dragging their feet.”

It was the Cardinals who appeared more energized from the start, as senior quarterback Casey Sehr, classmate running back Ashton Sandbulte and junior wide receiver Gannon Ahrendt swiftly moved the football 62 yards – more than a third of the Cardinals’ net total (169 yards) – behind Luverne’s stout line to score on the opening drive of the game. After moving the ball inside PAS territory with a 23-yard pass completion from Sehr to Sandbulte to the right side of the field, the wily runner scampered the remaining 31 yards to the left – lifting Luverne to a 6-0 lead. The hosts converted a 2-point try and momentarily held an 8-0 advantage with 8:40 to play in the first quarter.

The Arrows response was swift and competent and … short, as the Cardinals regularly kicked ground shots off the tee, perhaps in trying to avoid the wily, fleet-footed returns of Maddox Biever. The short kicks gave the Arrows good field position nearly every time, and the visitor’s game-tying, first quarter march began at the PAS 44. 

A quick screen from junior quarterback Kellen Johnson (23-of-34 for 241 yards, 3TD) to Cole Paulson promptly moved the Arrows into Cardinal territory and further aerial incursions targeting senior wide receiver Ty Hansen (13 receptions, 110 yards, TD) put the Arrows inside the red zone at the Luverne 13. Biever, who gained 72 yards on 14 totes while also catching four passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns, gained six and lost two on the ground before hauling in a 9-yard pass from Johnson and stretching the football across the goal line to whittle the deficit to two points (8-6). Johnson located senior wide receiver Ryan Woodbury cutting across the right side of the end zone on the conversion and the score was knotted at 8-all with 5:08 remaining in the first quarter.

The early drama gave way to more methodical movements through the middle of the second quarter before the Cardinals could find another chink in the Arrows’ armor. A 29-yard pass from Sehr to Ahrendt proved the key play in the 68-yard scoring drive – capped by 2-yard TD run from Sandbulte. Sehr lofted a precision pass to Zachary Kruse in the left corner of the end zone for a successful 2-point conversion, and the hosts seemingly had the visitors on the ropes, 16-8, with 7:56 left in the half.

The Arrows were twice stalled in their attempts to recoup the points before intermission, but nearly made the most of a fake punt on their final drive. Shouts of confusion and shuffling personnel on fourth down at the PAS 34 yielded a 22-yard gain when Johnson located an unmarked Kaden Musch on the left sideline. The Arrows continued up field with quick bursts through the air as well as on the ground and an 18-yard completion by Biever with :08 to play gave the Arrows one more play to shoot for the end zone. Unfortunately for the visitors, a low snap clanged off Johnson’s shin and was recovered by the Cardinals to end the threat and the half.

Johnson came out firing behind a more punched in line to open the third quarter, initially hitting Woodbury (4 receptions for 58 yards) twice, for gains of 13 and eight yards, before turning his attention to Hansen for two gains of eight yards which also included a horse-collar penalty that yielded an additional 15 yards. 

“We needed to pick up the pressures better, have more communication on the line and get off the ball quicker,” said PAS lines coach Cole Maly, a three-time Battle Axe winner. “I thought the guys did a better job of that in the second half, talking and moving a lot faster.”

The infraction put the Arrows on the Luverne 7-yard line and, after an incomplete pass the other way, Johnson found Hansen, who like Biever, stretched the football across the goal line for the touchdown. 

Still, Pipestone Area came up empty on its 2-point attempt and trailed Luverne 16-14 with 9:53 remaining in the third quarter.

“Honestly, I’ve never been in a battle like this one,” noted Woodbury. “There was so much adversity; it was a true challenge and I knew it was going to be a close one coming in … didn’t know it would be this close.”

The Cardinals nearly fought their way back into the end zone with an immediate response, but the Arrows thrice stifled their movements at the 15-yard line and regained possession on downs. 

And despite having to face a fourth down at their own 31-yard line on the ensuing possession, the shift in momentum was complete as Biever took the snap, faked a pitch to his right and gained 11 yards and a first down at the PAS 42. The senior running back (124 all-purpose yards), who with Hansen (110), accounted for more than three fifths of the Arrows’ 378 net yards, gained another 10 yards before catching a Johnson pass on the left flat and throwing it down field to a wide-open Nate Bobendrier. The seldom thrown to senior tight end plucked the ‘wounded duck’ out of the air and turned forward for a gain of 33 yards – putting PAS on the Luverne 15. Johnson located Biever on the ensuing play and the record-setting back high stepped into the end zone with what proved to be the winning points with 3:12 to play in the third quarter.

“I love it,” Biever said. “We expected a tough game; the Battle Axe is always a fist fight, but we held it up in the second half.”

Certainly not due to the Cardinals throwing in the towel, though, as Luverne’s Connor Overgaard stripped Hansen of the football on the Arrows’ next drive and, in turn, had opportunities to regain the lead in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for the hosts, they not only fell victim to immense pressure from the PAS defensive line, but also befell through way of penalties and the erroneous use of a timeout.

“We had a play called that we thought had a shot to score on, but – according to what I heard upstairs we were lined up wrong with too many people on the line of scrimmage – and I didn’t want to waste a play,” Luverne head coach Todd Oye said. “It would have been nice to have the timeout later, but I don’t think we could have stopped them. They’re a senior-dominated team, made plays when they needed them and won a good, close game – congratulations to them.”

The Pipestone Area defense, spearheaded by Rogen Smidt and Paulson (7 tackles apiece) stopped the Cardinals six times in the second half and limited them to fewer than 100 yards rushing (78) and passing (91) for the game. Musch, who like the aforementioned duo had a tackle for a loss, finished with five stops, while Bobendrier, Caden Miller, Austin Johnson and Connor Zephier added four tackles apiece.

Offensively, the Arrows finished with 23 first downs to the Cardinals’ 10, two thirds of which came via the air.

“Our biggest rival is Redwood, usually play them twice a year, but Luverne is always our favorite game of the year,” Hansen said. “It feels amazing to win this one. Me and Kellen were clicking all week in practice, have been throughout the season, and it was getting the plays in, knowing our routes and our outside receivers opening up the flats for me. I protect myself first and then try to turn up field and use my speed.

“Our biggest adjustment was playing like a family; in the first half we didn’t do that. When we’re playing as a team, we’re playing as a family; and that’s what got it done for us.”

The Arrows will look to turn away another tough opponent Friday night at Paulsen Field when they welcome the Jackson County Central Huskies (4-2) to Pipestone for an equally big South Central (Silver) District and Section 3AA match-up.

Pipestone Area 8 0 12 0 – 20

Luverne                 8 8 0 0 – 16

Knights hurt 

themselves vs. Blackjacks

D-B 27, R-T-R 18

The Knights fell to 3-3 on the season following a Southwest District loss to the visiting Blackjacks Friday night in Tyler.

Photo by Jodi Dubbeldee

Seemingly having the game in hand, at the very least in control, with an 18-14 lead in the third quarter and moving toward another tally, Knights made a couple blunders that cost them dearly.

R-T-R quarterback Jonah Christensen (17 carries 36 yards, 5-of-17 for 77 yards, TD) was galloping into the end zone and fumbled at the goal line, where the Blackjacks recovered. The Knights held D-B on the ensuing drive and forced a punt, which R-T-R thought it had picked up and returned for a touchdown. However, the Knights were flagged for having 12 players on the field (later revealed they had only 11), negating the tally and giving the visitors a first down.

“We made a couple really big mistakes and shot ourselves in the foot,” R-T-R head coach Josh Fredrickson said. “The fumble and the penalty were huge. They (Blackjacks) ended up scoring on the drive, 99 yards, and that was a really frustrating thing to have happened.”

The Knights never recovered from their misfortune, while the Blackjacks went on to score again and claim the victory.

The good news for the Knights is they have two winnable games, versus Yellow Medicine East (0-6) and Lac qui Parle Valley (3-3), remaining with a hope of entering the postseason with confidence.

“There are some little things, ball security and tackling, that we can work on and emphasize heading into the next games,” Fredrickson said. “We have to try to have a short memory, move on to those final two games and, hopefully, come out and do some good things right away. I think the big thing is going into them feeling confident. We did that against D-B, came out right away and boom, boom, and then those mistakes had an impact. Sometimes those things mess with your confidence a little bit, and we have to continue to try to play a complete game. If our focus is high, I think we’ll be all right.”

Tucker Haroldson caught three Christensen passes for 43 yards, while Aiden Wichmann had a reception from Christensen for 29 yards and passed to Camden Hansen for a 45-yard gain.

Darrick Baartman and Cody Wichman rushed for 25 yards on six carries and 41 yards on seven totes, respectively, against the Blackjacks.

Logan Lamote spearheaded the R-T-R defensive effort with 14 total tackles. Christensen and Cody Wichmann finished with 10 stops apiece, while Brady Gifford added eight tackles and Caleb Witte had a sack.

The Knights will travel to Granite Falls Friday night to face The Sting.

Dawson-Boyd 0 14 13 0 – 27

R-T-R                   3 15 0 0 – 18

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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