MINNEAPOLIS - The Verndale Pirates are used to rushing over opponents. On Thursday, the roles were suddenly reversed.
And while the Pirates still managed to put up 234 rushing yards, they could not match the offensive firepower of the Stephen-Argyle Storm, who finished with 342 yards on the ground.
Verndale found itself in too big of a hole to climb out of as it tried to come back with a grind-it-out style of play and eventually fell 35-14 in the nine-man state semifinals at the Metrodome.
Down 14-0 at halftime, the Pirates, who have had limited success in the passing game all season, found it difficult to score against a tough Storm defense with their methodical offensive approach.
"We got behind and that's pretty tough on us because we can't really throw the ball," said head coach Mike Mahlen, whose team made it to the Metrodome for the first time since 2003 where it also lost to Stephen-Argyle 28-14.
Stephen-Argyle 35, Verndale 14
The key: In a matchup of rushing teams, Stephen-Argyle won the battle with 342 yards compared to Verndale's 234.
Overall: Vern. 10-2, S-A 12-0
Senior running back Sam Moenkedick, the game's leading rusher with 202 yards on 27 carries, said the pressure on the quarterback made it impossible to throw, which led to the defense further keying on him.
"It was tough. They hit hard. They knew we were coming at them with the run," he said. "We couldn't get any protection to pass the ball."
While Sam Moenkedick, who scored Verndale's first touchdown on a 55-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, racked up nearly all of Verndale's rushing yards, the Storm did what it had done all season; spread to ball out to capture its state-record 66th straight victory.
Stephen-Argyle had six rushers on the day with two going over 100 yards in Taylor Swanson, who finished with 132 yards on 24 carries and Kyle Gratzek, who finished with 103 yards on 10 carries.
The spread-it-out rushing offense allowed the Storm to grab a 28-0 advantage after three quarters.
Mahlen said Stephen-Argyle's rushing attack differed from years past.
"They don't have that one go-to back like they did in the past," he said. "They have five, six guys that all carry the ball."
Sam Moenkedick, who finished with 11 tackles on the day, said it was impossible to key on one back.
"On every down, you didn't know what back was getting it," he said. "They did a good job faking and countering it."
Matt Moenkedick led the Pirates in tackles with 12, while Ethan Kern, who threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jake Seaton in the fourth quarter, finished the game with eight tackles of his own. Junior Brady Siedschlaw added an interception for Verndale.
Mahlen said his team exceeded his expectations this season.
"I think we probably overachieved a bit this year. We had a couple of real good skilled players, our line was young and small," he said. "If you told me at the beginning of the season that we'd be 10-2 and lose in the state semifinals, I would've taken it at that point."
"The loss is disappointing of course, but we got beat by a better team. It wasn't a fluke or a big mistake that cost us the game, they just beat us. But we won the conference, won the section. I'm really pleased with the effort from these kids this season."
Verndale 0 0 0 14 - 14
S-A 7 7 14 7 - 35
SA-Taylor Swanson 2 run (Blaine Deschene kick) 3:41
SA-Kip Thorstenson 1 run (Deschene kick) 5:04
SA-Swanson 13 run (Deschene kick) 6:16
SA-Thorstenson 10 run (Deschene kick) 0:45
V-Sam Moenkedick 55 run (Ethan Kern pass failed) 11:15
SA-Brandon Sorenson 11 run (Deschene kick) 3:50
V-Jake Seaton 10 pass from Kern (Zack Meidinger rush) 0:29
Rushes-yards: V 51-234, SA 59-342
Pass comp-att-int-yds: V 2-6-0-25, SA 2-5-1-36
Total offense: V 57-259, SA 64-378
Rushing: V, S. Moenkedick 27-202, Kern 8-19, Amos Schmidt 2-10, Matt Moenkedick 14-3; SA, Swanson 24-132, Kyle Gratzek 10-103, Sorenson 7-31, Thorstenson 7-26, Mathew Borowicz 8-25, Jimmy Crummy 2-25, Team 1-0
Passing: V, M. Moenkedick 1-3-0-15, Kern 1-2-0-10, Team 0-1; SA, Thorstenson 2-5-1-36
Receiving: V, Seaton 2-25; SA, Crummy 1-29, Swanson 1-7
TY RUSHMEYER, sports writer, may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5865.
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