Spring Grove did something no other 9-man football team had managed to do in more than nine years.
Spring Grove capped off an undefeated season with a 32-0 victory over Nevis in the state 9-man championship game Friday to kick off the Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. That marked the first time Nevis has been held scoreless in a game since Cromwell pulled off the feat with a 42-0 victory in October of 2008. It also prevented Nevis from winning its first state team title in school history as the Tigers advanced to the championship game for the first time in five state playoff appearances.
"(When the season started), I thought this team had a lot of potential," said Nevis head coach Shawn Klimek. "I thought we had a shot to make it down there and maybe win the whole thing. It was a great run."
Controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball was the key as Spring Grove scored on four straight possessions in building a 26-0 lead at the half.
Nevis' defense forced the Lions to punt on their opening series and took over at the Nevis 18. Jack DeWulf hit Zach Henry on a 44-yard pass route as the Tigers reached the Spring Grove 39. DeWulf was sacked for a 19-yard loss on third-and-2 as Nevis was forced to punt.
DeWulf's 50-yard punt pinned Spring Grove at the 5, but the Lions drove 95 yards in 10 plays to open the scoring. Cullen Patterson's 5-yard run on third-and-1 at the 14, a 6-yard pass from Alex Folz to Sam Sanness on third-and-2 at the 27 and a 42-yard run by Patterson on third-and-1 at the 42 set up a 15-yard TD run by Folz. Jack Landquist blocked the extra-point kick as Spring Grove led 6-0 with 3:40 to play in the first quarter.
The Tigers faced a fourth-and 3 at the Nevis 31 on the ensuing series when DeWulf gained 8 yards on a fake punt for a first down. A fumble on the next play was recovered by Spring Grove at the Nevis 43.
A holding penalty on the Tigers and a 15-yard run by Folz set up a 28-yard TD pass from Folz to Ethan Matzke. Matzke caught the two-point conversion to give Spring Grove a 14-0 lead with 47 seconds remaining in the first quarter. That drive took four plays and covered 43 yards.
Kyle Schmidt's 6-yard run and DeWulf's 19-yard carry gave Nevis a first down at the Spring Grove 47. That drive stalled and ended with another punt.
Spring Grove followed with an eight-play, 74-yard scoring drive. Folz completed four passes during the drive, hitting Luke Schneider for 12 yards, finding Adin Solum for 19 yards on third-and-10 and connecting with Sanness for 12 yards to set up a 25-yard scoring play to Schneider. Tucker Roehl blocked the extra point as Spring Grove led 20-0 with 6:58 remaining in the first half.
Nevis was forced to punt for the third time and the Lions ended the half with a nine-play, 58-yard drive. An 8-yard run by Patterson on third-and-3, a 9-yard carry by Patterson and a 17-yard gain by Folz led to a 9-yard TD pass from Folz to Noah Elton. That gave the Lions a 26-0 lead with 1:29 remaining before the break.
A pass interference call that negated an interception by Folz and a 20-yard run by DeWulf led the Tigers to the Spring Grove 35, but a pass intended for Luke DeWulf in the end zone was knocked down to end the half.
Folz completed 14 of 17 passes for 151 yards in the first half as Spring Grove compiled 281 yards on 36 plays. Nevis ran 25 plays for 129 yards.
On the opening series of the second half, the Tigers picked up 53 yards on 13 running plays with DeWulf rushing six times for 27 yards and Schmidt gaining 21 yards on five carries. That drive stalled at the Spring Grove 11.
After both teams exchanged punts, the Lions sealed the win with a quick three-play drive that covered 43 yards. Folz found Sanness for 42 yards to the Nevis 1 before Landquist tackled Folz for a 5-yard loss. Patterson opened the fourth quarter with a 6-yard TD run as Spring Grove led 32-0 with 11:56 remaining.
Nevis was forced to punt again and the Lions used a 26-yard run and a 12-yard run by Patterson to march to the Tigers' 19. Nevis' defense held and the Tigers took over at the 21.
Jack DeWulf followed a 22-yard run with a 32-yard pass to Michael Landquist as the Tigers drove to the Spring Grove 25. An interception by Solum at the 4 ended that threat.
A 30-yard run by Folz and facemask penalty led the Lions to the Nevis 45, but that drive stalled and resulted in a punt.
Two carries by Schmidt for 10 yards and a 5-yard run by Tucker Roehl ran out the final 1:16 of the game.
The Lions finished with 435 yards in offense with Patterson rushing 17 times for 124 yards and Folz adding 112 yards on 18 carries. Folz also completed 16 of 22 passes for 196 yards with Sanness (three catches for 60 yards) and Matzke (three catches for 48 yards) being the primary receivers.
Folz, a junior quarterback, ended the season rushing for 1,583 yards and 26 touchdowns and throwing for 2,299 yards and 28 TDs while Patterson rushed for 1,319 yards and 17 TDs. In the 12 games following a 52-51 win over Cleveland to open the season, the Lions averaged 47.7 points a game while allowing only 14.0 points a game entering the championship game. Spring Grove had lost the last five Section 1 title games to Grand Meadow, which had captured the last four state 9-man titles. Spring Grove entered the playoffs rated No. 1 in the state poll and advanced to the finals with a 34-6 win over No. 3 Verndale and a 27-7 win over No. 8 Stephen-Argyle. Winning the school's first state title capped off a 14-0 season for the Lions.
Nevis, which was held scoreless for the first time in 96 games, finished with 250 yards in offense with Jack DeWulf rushing 22 times for 110 yards and Schmidt gaining 54 yards on 16 carries. Jack DeWulf completed 2 of 9 passes for 76 yards.
Defensively, Michael Landquist had six solo tackles and five assists, Roehl had five solo tackles and seven assists, Schmidt and Luke DeWulf had four solo tackles and six assists each, and Jack DeWulf had four solo tackles and three assists. Jack Landquist added three solo tackles and three assists while Tom Wormley had five assisted tackles.
Nevis, which entered the playoffs rated No. 6 in the state, advanced to the finals with a 42-14 win over No. 9 North Woods and a 44-16 victory over Russell-Tyler-Ruthton. The Tigers close the season with an 11-2 record.
"A couple of plays early on got us a little rattled and changed the course of the game. Spring Grove is not 32 points better than us. Their line dictated things. Their ends controlled the game and we couldn't get anything going," said Klimek. "I told the kids after the game to realize how special this season was. We played in the Prep Bowl for the first time in school history. We had a great season."
Spring Grove 14 12 0 6...32
Nevis 0 0 0 0...0
SG--Folz 15 run (kick blocked)
SG--Matzke 28 pass from Folz (Matzke pass from Folz)
SG--Schneider 25 pass from Folz (kick blocked)
SG--Elton 9 pass from Folz (run failed)
SG--Patterson 6 run (pass failed)
RUSHING. Spring Grove: Patterson 17-124, Folz 18-112, Elton 1-3. Nevis: J. DeWulf 22-110, Schmidt 16-54, Roehl 4-17, L. DeWulf 2-(-7).
PASSING. Spring Grove: Folz 16-22-0 for 196 yards. Nevis: J. DeWulf 2-9-1 for 76 yards.
RECEIVING. Spring Grove: Sanness 3-60, Matzke 3-48, Solum 3-25, Elton 3-18, Schneider 2-37. Patterson 2-8. Nevis: Henry 1-44, M. Landquist 1-32.
KICKOFF RETURNS. Spring Grove: Patterson 1-10. Nevis: Henry 4-67, L. DeWulf 2-34.
PUNT RETURNS. Spring Grove: Elton 2-7. Nevis: J. DeWulf 1-2, L. DeWulf 1-(-2).
NEVIS DEFENSIVE STATISTICS
SOLO TACKLES: M. Landquist 6, Roehl 5, Schmidt 4, L. DeWulf 4, J. DeWulf 4, J. Landquist 3, McGee 1, Henry 1, Hitchcock 1.
ASSISTED TACKLES: Roehl 7, Schmidt 6, L. DeWulf 6, M. Landquist 5, Wormley 5, J. DeWulf 3, J. Landquist 3, McGee 3, Henry 1, Hitchcock 1.