Houston rolls into state semifinals
By Scott A. Kolb
Post-Bulletin, Austin MN
SPRING LAKE PARK, Minn. — Houston got its revenge against Verndale in Friday night’s Nine-Man state football quarterfinals, and now it’s on to the Metrodome.
Last year, the Verndale Pirates ended the season for the Houston Hurricanes in this round of the state playoffs.
The Pirates struck early, and the Hurricanes trailed for the first time this season, but rallied for the last two touchdowns in a 14-6 win.
The Houston defense deserved the most accolades for this win, shutting down Verndale’s prolific running game.
Throughout the season, the Pirates averaged 386 yards per game on the ground. But the Hurricanes defense held them to a total of 112 yards on the night.
This statistic is even more impressive when considering that the lone touchdown for Verndale came on a 75-yard run by Matt Moenkedick in the first quarter. In his other 21 carries, Moenkedick gained only 25 yards total.
"We’re a dangerous team when we stick together and play with heart," Houston coach Jason Freed said. "We had to stay focused after they scored on that long run. I think the key play in the game was when we stopped them on the two-point conversion attempt."
Punts became the routine during the first half as the defenses held sway. After an exchange of punts in the second quarter, the Hurricanes got favorable field position at the Pirates’ 45-yard line.
It was a rainy night, and that hindered the usual flurry of passes from Houston quarterback Andy Sires. Instead, the Hurricanes beat the Pirates at their own game and rushed for 222 yards on the night.
Most of those yards came from senior Kevin Lindh, who amassed 151 yards on 33 carries. In their initial 10-play scoring drive, the Hurricanes gave the Pirates defense a healthy dose of Lindh’s hard-nosed running style.
Lindh carried the ball seven times on Houston’s first touchdown drive. He capped off the march with a 1-yard plunge, and when Jake Hongerholt booted the extra point, the Hurricanes were on top to stay.
"Kevin is a special player," Freed said. "He’s our horse, and we rode him to this victory. Kevin is a very determined runner, and their defense couldn’t bring him down."
Not only did he lead the team with his rushing, but Lindh also made the biggest defensive play of the season. After the Hurricanes punted on their first possession of the second half, the Pirates had the ball at their own 27. They lost yardage on first down, and then fumbled on second down.
Lindh made the fumble recovery at Verndale’s 23-yard line. It gave the Hurricanes a very short field for their second touchdown drive, which took just three plays.
Pete Kildahl caught his first touchdown pass of the season to cap off the short march. Sires eluded the Verndale rush and found Kildahl in the back of the end zone.
"Kevin made a great play on defense, and Pete finished it with a big-time catch for the touchdown," Sires said. "I can’t take any credit for that touchdown; it was all up to Pete. I just threw it up there and he came down with the ball."
Kildahl’s catch sent the large crowd adorned in red behind the Houston bench into a frenzy. The psychedelic old school bus, driven all the way from Houston by a faithful alumnus, had once again added some magic to the scene as it sat just beyond the end zone. Kildahl’s catch ensured that the bus will be parked outside the Metrodome in Minneapolis next week.
"It was a broken play, and I had to adjust to their defense," Kildahl said. "It wasn’t there initially, so I worked back to the middle. You do what you have to do and make the play."
Staked to an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Hurricanes defense finished off the Pirates. The defense forced a punt on one possession, and on Verndale’s last series, they thwarted a potential game-tying drive. A final desperate pass from the Pirates in the closing seconds was incomplete, and then the celebration in the stands began in earnest.
Houston (12-0) plays Ada-Borup in the state semifinals at 8 a.m. Friday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.