By Matt Kane
DELANO – Neither team wanted to be finished with the 2017 season.
Play on the field at Tiger Stadium Saturday night, when Delano hosted Becker in the Section 6-4A semifinals, told the fans so, as the Tigers and Bulldogs exchanged bites and big plays through 48 minutes.
In the end, the “Dawgs”, as it states on the Becker helmets, were still standing in the crisp, cool air after a 36-28 win over the higher-seeded Tigers.
“We’ve played each other so many times; they know us and we know them. They have good players and we have good players. It really comes down to one play somewhere, and we happened to make that one plays somewhere along the line to win the game. We could do it again tomorrow and it might be their game,” said Bulldogs coach Dwight Lundeen, who is in his 47th season as the head man at Becker. “I have tremendous respect for Merrill Pavlovich and his Delano program. We love their field here, and it was a perfect night for football — for the players. The fans got a little cool, maybe, but not the players.”
It was Becker’s sixth playoff win over Delano in eight meetings since 2004.
Delano (7-2) was the No. 2 seed behind No. 1 Zimmerman, which was also upset Saturday night.
The Thunder, which gave the Tigers their only regular-season loss in Week 1, fell to No. 4 Big Lake 28-6 in Zimmerman. That leaves Becker and Big Lake to battle for the section championship in Monticello Saturday, Nov. 4, at 1 p.m.
Becker (6-4), the No. 3 seed in the section playoffs, scored touchdowns following three Delano turnovers. Two of those situations came in the fourth quarter, and helped the Bulldogs complete the comeback win.
In the fourth quarter, an interception by linebacker Lucas Dertinger with less than eight minutes to play in regulation led to Becker’s go-ahead drive. The pass went through the hands of Delano’s Calvin Wishart and to the hands of Dertinger, who returned the ball to inside the Delano 10-yard line.
A penalty set the ball up at the 5-yard line, where, on the first play, Sidney Boros, took the hand off and found the end zone. The touchdown and two-point pass from Dertinger to quarterback Josh Fobbe turned the score around, from a 22-21 Delano advantage to a 29-22 Becker lead.
Dertinger, who had three interceptions in the fourth quarter, intercepted his second-consecutive pass from Delano quarterback Mike Shoultz in as many plays on the Tigers’ responding possession, but, on the return, fumbled the ball back to Delano.
The Tigers gave the ball right back on the next play, when Sam Kern, who recovered the Dertinger fumble, fumbled, himself. Bayden Weber recovered the football for the Bulldogs at the Delano 48-yard line. Four plays later, Becker was back in the end zone on a three-yard run by Alex Blomgren, who also ran in a touchdown in the first quarter.
Dertinger’s extra-point kick extended Becker’s lead to 14 points, 36-22.
The Bulldogs needed the cushion, as the Tigers answered on the next possession, ending an eight-play, 62-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Shoultz to Garrett Kramp.
The two-point conversion run failed, settling the final score at 36-28.
Delano had one more possession with less than two minutes to play, but Dertinger’s third interception, this one on a leaping one-handed snag with 37 seconds remaining, ended any chance of a Tiger comeback.
Four Delano turnovers were certainly key to Becker’s victory, but, so, too was the field-position game.
“We punted more tonight than we probably punted in the first nine games. We usually like to go for it, but, with their stingy defense and us trying to make them go 90 yards, that was part of our game plan, to punt it in and down it,” said Lundeen, who was inducted into the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame a week earlier. “I think there were four or five times they had to start inside their own 10-yard line. That was a big part for us.”
The Bulldogs punted the football four times and downed the ball inside the Delano 10-yard line all four times. A fifth Tiger possession began inside their own 10 following a third-quarter interception by Paulson.
Becker had only one possession begin inside its own red zone, at the beginning of the second quarter. Two Bulldog possessions begin inside the Delano 10-yard line, both resulting in touchdowns.
Another problem the host Tigers struggled to deal with was the Bulldog running game, which features 1,000-yard rusher Sidney Boros.
Against Delano, Boros added 229 yards and two touchdowns to his season total.
“They have that Boros kid, who has some excellent speed,” said Delano’s Pavlovich of Becker’s running attack. “Several times, when he got to the edge, he busted it.”
Entering Saturday’s section title game against Big Lake, Boros has 1,509 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Becker ran for 310 yards against the Tigers, and, with 79 passing yards from Fobbe, finished with 389 total yards.
Both offenses were strong, as the Bulldogs and Tigers combined for 742 yards.
The passing game led the way for the Tigers, as Mike Shoultz completed 13-of-24 passes for 199 yards. Shoultz threw for three touchdowns, but was victimized by the three Dertinger interceptions.
Senior tight end Hunter Hart had a breakout game for the Tigers, catching six passes for 102 yards. He had two huge catches that helped keep Delano’s final scoring drive alive. The first went for 20 yards on a 3rd-and-10 play from midfield, and the second was an 18-yard catch-and-run on first down from the Becker 25-yard line.
Hart was left open underneath in the middle because of Becker’s insistence that Wishart, the state’s leading receiver, not tear the Bulldog defense apart all night.
“We double-teamed him every play and he still managed to catch several balls. One of the best high school receivers I’ve seen in awhile. He has great ups and great hands,” Lundeen said of Wishart, who caught four passes in the game for 45 yards and the touchdown. “I was very happy. We gave him a few catches and that was OK. We knew we would have to bend but not break with him.”
Wishart finished his one-and-only season with the Tigers with 1,296 yards and 14 touchdowns receiving.
Shoultz ended up with 1,484 yards and 20 touchdowns passing for his senior season.
Delano’s leading rusher, Kern, led the Tigers Saturday with 117 yards on 21 carries. He finishes his junior season with 999 rushing yards.
Delano’s ground game tallied 154 yards and one touchdown in the loss.
The host Tigers led first in the cat-vs-dog fight.
Following an interception by Jack Paulson — the first of two for the senior — on Becker’s first drive after the opening kickoff, Delano took an 8-0 lead on a one-yard run by Caden Link and a conversion run by Kern.
A three-yard touchdown run from Blomgren on the Bulldogs’ ensuing possession and a safety in the second quarter allowed Becker to tie the game, 8-8.
Delano stopped the extra-point conversion following the Blomgren touchdown, and the Tigers led by two points, 8-6. The game-tying safety came after a controversial reversal by the officials, who originally ruled a Becker punt as a touchback, only to change the call and determine that the ball was downed by a Bulldog cover man at the Delano 2-yard line.
On the first play, Kern was tackled by Brady Seeley in the end zone for the safety.
In the second half, the Bulldogs recovered a David Gerecke fumble at the Delano 8-yard line, and, three plays later, Fobbe was in the end zone on a six-yard run.
The kick by Dertinger gave Becker a 15-8 lead at halftime.
The third quarter was a slugfest.
Delano regained the lead on the first possession of the second half, capping a six-play, 68-yard drive with a 40-yard touchdown strike from Shoultz to Kern. A jump-ball connection from Kern to Wishart gave the Tigers a 16-15 lead.
That lead was short-lived — it lasted 20 seconds — as Boros took the ball 68 yards to the end zone on Becker’s first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive. The failed conversion left the Bulldogs with a 21-16 lead with nine minutes to play in the third quarter.
It was Delano’s turn, and the Tigers responded as expected, with a 54-yard touchdown drive. Wishart won a jump ball on pass from Shoultz for a five-yard touchdown pass. A failed conversion left Delano with another one-point lead, 22-21.
Paulson gave the Tiger offense a chance to add to the lead with his second interception, which came at the Tigers’ 7-yard line, but Delano was forced to punt on the sixth play of the possession.
Paulson is one of 17 senior who played his final game in a Delano uniform. The others are Shoultz, Wishart, Kramp, Gerecke, Tucker Hart, Cole Schansberg, Brendan Kalous, Camden Tschudi, Austin Ahlstrom, Andrean Ostrovsky, Steven Hajas, Jacob McDonald, Spencer Nelson, Billy Emmer, Wyatt McClay and Chase Carlson.
Hajas and Ostrovsky finished their final games with 12 tackles each. Paulson had eight tackles to go along with his two interceptions.
Hajas finished the season with 121 tackels.
DELANO 36, BECKER 28
Saturday, Oct. 28
1 2 3 4 – F
Becker 6 9 6 14 – 36
Delano 8 0 14 6 – 28
6:08: D – Link 1-yard run (Kern run), 8-0
2:13: B – Blomgren 3-yard run (run failed), 8-6
6:36: B – Safety by Seeley, 8-8
3:34: B – Fobbe 6-yard run to Dertinger (Dertinger run), 8-15
9:22: D – Shoultz 40-yard pass to Kern (Kern pass to Wishart), 16-21
9:02: B – Boros 68-yard run (pass failed), 16-21
5:01: D – Shoultz 5-yard pass to Wishart (run failed), 22-21
9:30: B – Boros 5-yard run (Dertinger pass to Fobbe), 22-29
7:45: B – Blomgren 3-yard run (Dertinger kick), 22-36
4:43: D – Shoultz 19-yard pass to Kramp (run failed), 28-36
TEAM Total Yards: Delano 353; Becker 389. Rushing: Delano 38-154 TD; Becker 45-310 5TD. Passing: Delano 13/25-199 3TD 3INT; Becker 6/12-79 2INT.
INDIVIDUALS Rushing: Delano — Kern 21-117, Wishart 3-30, Link 6-27 TD, Gerecke 1-0, Shoultz 8–20. Passing: Delano — Shoultz 13/24-199 3TD 3INT, Otto 0/1-0; Becker — Fobbe 6/12 2INT. Receiving: Delano — Hart 6-102, Kern 2-42 TD, Wishart 4-45 TD, Kramp 1-19 TD. Interceptions: Delano — Paulson 2; Becker — Dertinger 3.