ST. CLOUD — Five turnovers and six penalties negated a gritty comeback from 10-point deficits.
The fourth-seeded Moorhead Spuds scored 17 points off turnovers and went on to upset the No. 2 Warriors 24-20 in the Section 8-5A championship game Saturday at Husky Stadium at St. Cloud State University.
Burdened by two first-half turnovers, Brainerd trailed 17-7 at the half. The Warriors turned it over three times in the second as they rallied from a 24-14 deficit.
“In a championship game you can’t do that,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said of the turnovers. “The kids know it too, it’s stating the obvious. They feel so bad about it, that’s the hard part. Each of them takes ownership of what they do.
“Early in the week I was saying what a great plus-minus turnover thing we had (plus 8). We didn’t have very many, but shoot, we didn’t catch a break today.”
Moorhead started three first-half possessions in Warriors territory. Brainerd’s defense performed well enough to win, allowing just 245 yards but short fields made the Spuds’ leads almost impossible to overcome.
“I give Brainerd a ton of credit,” Spuds coach Kevin Feeney said. “The character they showed on that football field was championship character. That comes from the tradition they have. They had many opportunities to shut down and let us win the football game.”
The Spuds’ offense controlled the clock, running 65 plays to Brainerd’s 43. Although the Warriors gained 217 of their 308 yards in the second half they only had the ball for 20 plays after halftime.
“We were able to make a few plays and sustain drives,” Stolski said. “We didn’t have many plays, and part of it was our own fault. You turn it over, part of it is chance and circumstance.
“I’m real proud of this team, I’m proud of the season. If you play a mistake-plagued game, and still are there to win, I think that says quite a bit.”
Running back Chase Morlock enabled Moorhead to hang onto the ball. He carried 33 times for 133 yards and scored on three short runs.
“He’s a dude,” Feeney said. “We have a saying that our dudes have got to be dudes in big games. He stepped up. He broke his foot the first game of the season, and sat out the next four weeks. We had our struggles without him. He just brings a sense of toughness.”
Nick Welch was Brainerd’s dude, rushing 16 times for 152 yards and a score. Two of his runs combined to gain 90 yards.
The game’s first possession was an omen of things to come for Brainerd. A Welch fumble was recovered at the Warriors’ 30 and Morlock later ran four yards for a score.
The Warriors tied it on the ensuing possession, which almost ended with an incomplete pass on third down but Moorhead was whistled for interference. Four plays later Welch barreled 47 yards for a TD.
On the first possession of the second quarter, Morlock scored again on a 5-yard run.
One play later, Moorhead recovered a Welch fumble at the Brainerd 39 and embarked on a 9-play drive that ended with Cody Rahman’s 25-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead. An offside penalty against Brainerd on fourth down kept the drive alive.
Jake Kassulker recovered a Morlock fumble at the Moorhead 25 with 37.8 seconds left in the half. But the Warriors were unable to capitalize as Andrew Olson’s 42-yard field goal attempt was wide and short.
In the second half, the Warriors’ first possession ended when Logan Davis’ halfback pass was intercepted.
Brainerd clawed within 17-14 when Mitch McLain and Riley Kline hooked up for a 75-yard TD pass with 1.8 seconds left in the third. Kline ran away from a diving Moorhead defensive back.
Less than four minutes later, Moorhead recovered Cole Smith’s fumbled punt reception and Morlock made it 24-14 with a 5-yard run. Huge play in the drive was a 38-yard halfback pass on third down from Jesse Doschadis to Tony Uglem.
But the Warriors weren’t finished. Welch ran 43 yards to the Moorhead 25. Four plays later Jimmy Giese caught an 8-yard TD toss from McLain, who finished with a 111 yards passing.
Moorhead burned 3-plus minutes off the clock but was forced to punt. The Warriors drove to the Moorhead 37 where the Spuds stripped the ball from Welch and recovered but Brainerd’s defense stiffened.
The Warriors got the ball back one last time, but their season ended at their 17 with an incomplete pass on fourth down.
Moorhead 7 10 0 7 — 24
Brainerd 7 0 7 6 — 20
M-Chase Morlock 4 run (Cody Rahman kick) 7:48
Brd-Nick Welch 47 run (Andrew Olson kick) 4:43
M-Morlock 5 run (Rahman kick) 9:40
M-Rahman 25 FG, 4:05
Brd-Riley Kline 75 pass from Mitch McLain (Olson kick) 1.8
M-Morlock 5 run (Rahman kick) 8:37
Brd-Jimmy Giese 8 pass from McLain (kick fails) 6:59
First downs: Brd 12, M 13
Rushes-yards: Brd 28-201, M 56-139
Pass comp-att-int-yds: Brd 6-15-1-107, M 7-9-0-106
Total offense: Brd 308, M 245
Punts-avg: Brd 2-37.0, M 5-36.6
Return yards: Brd 52, M 9
Fumbles-lost: Brd 4-4, M 2-1
Penalties-yds lost: Brd 6-40, M 6-45
Rushing: Brd, McLain 9-28, Welch 16-152, Logan Davis 1-7, Conor Gessell 2-14; Moor, Morlock 33-133
Passing: Brd, McLain 5-13-0-111, Logan Davis 0-1-1-0, Giese 1-1-0-(-4); Moor, Aaron Lien 6-8-0-68, Jesse Doschadis 1-1-0-38
Receiving: Brd, Kline 3-92, Giese 2-19, McLain 1-(-4); Moor, Mason Ness 3-19, Brandon Porter 3-49, Tony Uglem 1-38
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.