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Mountain Iron-Buhl rallies past Spring Grove in Nine-Man state title game

Mountain Iron-Buhl scores with 25 seconds to play to overcome 19-0 deficit and post 28-25 victory.

Spring Grove, Mountain Iron-Buhl State Football Championship
Spring Grove players look on in disbelief after falling 28-25 to Mountain Iron-Buhl the Nine-Man state championship football game on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Spring Grove led 19-0 after one quarter.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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MINNEAPOLIS — It wasn't supposed to end like this.

Not for a Spring Grove football team that had worked so hard to achieve its dream season.

But the dream came up 25 seconds short for Spring Grove in the Nine-Man football state championship game on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Mountain Iron-Buhl defeated Spring Grove 28-25 in the State Class Nine-Man Football Championship on Dec. 3, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The Lions led Mountain Iron-Buhl 19-0 after the first quarter. Spring Grove was still up 25-14 going into the fourth quarter and had a championship in its sights. But the Rangers rallied to score two touchdowns in the final quarter to slip past Spring Grove 28-25.

"It's just tough," Spring Grove coach Kody Moore said. "We just needed to make one or two more plays."

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The Rangers (13-0) scored the winning touchdown with just 25 seconds to play when Damian Tupio scored on a 10-yard run.

Spring Grove, Mountain Iron-Buhl State Football Championship
Mountain Iron-Buhl’s Asher Zubich (2) reacts after the team won the State Class Nine-Man Football Championship game against Spring Grove on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

“We had pride, we had heart and we just kept fighting the whole game,” Mountain Iron-Buhl quarterback Asher Zubich said. Zubich passed for 168 yards and two touchdowns and he ran for another 127 yards.

The dramatic turnaround stunned the Lions and denied Spring Grove of the goal it had been seeking all season.

“It’s really tough, knowing I’m not going to be coming to practice every day anymore and get to see these guys every day,” Spring Grove senior center Ty Cleven said. “It’s hard to end on a loss.”

It was Spring Grove’s seven seniors who helped change the culture of the 2022 team. The Lions were not very physical a year ago and finished under .500. The seniors took it upon themselves to make sure the team worked hard in the offseason to improve.

“To our group of seniors, I’d say our legacy is probably hard work,” said Spring Grove senior Tysen Grinde, who had seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in the title game.

Spring Grove, Mountain Iron-Buhl State Football Championship
Spring Grove’s Jaxon Strinmoen (7) and Jacob Olerud (9) react after Strinmoen intercepted a pass during the Nine-Man state championship football game against Mountain Iron-Buhl on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Spring Grove entered the championship game a perfect 13-0 and ranked No. 3 in the state. The Lions also had to navigate through a tough Section 1 field to earn a state berth. Coming into this year's title game, Section 1 teams had won seven of the past eight Nine-Man state titles.

“These guys took it personally with some of the stuff that happened last year in some of those games," Moore said.

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The Lions forced Mountain Iron-Buhl to commit five turnovers, three in the first quarter when they surged to what seemed like a commanding lead. But Mountain Iron-Buhl was just as determined and switched the momentum in the second quarter.

The Rangers got a big touchdown with just six seconds left in the half to pull within 19-14.

"They just made some adjustments and got the momentum back in the second quarter," Moore said.

“I think we took our foot off the gas pedal," the coach added. “We didn’t get back to what we needed to get back to.”

Mountain Iron-Buhl (13-0) was able to overcome two more turnovers in the second half to complete its perfect season. The Rangers drove 58 yards in just more than three minutes to score the winning touchdown.

“A lot of people don’t even get to play in a game like this,” Zubich said. “And we took it as a chance of a lifetime. And we told ourselves before the game it was going to be rough.”

Spring Grove, Mountain Iron-Buhl State Football Championship
Spring Grove’s Elijah Solum (2) runs the ball during the Nine-Man state championship football game against Mountain Iron-Buhl on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Solum rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 186 yards and a TD in Spring Grove's 28-25 loss.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

After a slow start, the Rangers outgained Spring Grove in total yards 378 to 329.

Spring Grove junior quarterback Elijah Solum rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns and he was 17-for-35 passing for 186 yards and another TD.

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The loss denies the Lions their third state title. They had won state championships in 2017 and '18. The loss also means no Section 1 team won a state football title for the first time since 2009.

“It didn’t end up the way we wanted it to, but I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life,” Cleven said. “Just hanging out with my brothers.”

Mountain Iron-Buhl 28, Spring Grove 25

Mountain Iron-Buhl 0-14-0-28 — 28

Spring Grove 19-0-6-0 — 25

First quarter

SG — Elijah Solum 5 run (Caleb Griffin kick), 7:35.

SG — Tysen Grinde 43 pass from Solum (kick blocked), 6:38.

SG — Hunter Holland 14 run (Caleb Griffin kick), 7:35.

Second quarter

MIB — Damian Tapio 11 run (Tapio run), 2:41.

MIB — Nik Jesch 20 pass from Asher Zubich (pass failed), 0:06.

Third quarter

SG — Solum 12 run (pass failed), 6:16.

SG — Solum 4 run (kick failed), 2:45.

Fourth quarter

MIB — Riley Busch 63 pass from Zubich (pass failed), 10:25.

MIB — Tapio 10 run (Busch pass from Zubich), 0:25.

TEAM TOTALS

MIB — SG

First Downs 24 — 21

Total net yards 378 — 329

Rushes-yards 46-210 — 28-143

Passing yards 168 — 186

Comp.-att.-int. 13-25-2 — 17-36-2

Fumbles-lost 3-3 — 2-0

Penalties-yds. 2-10 — 4-36

Punts-avg. 1-34.0 — 5-26.4

Possession time 24:37 — 23:23

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING

Mountain Iron-Buhl: Asher Zubich 25-127, Damian Tapio 18-80, Riley Busch 2-3, Team 1-0. Spring Grove: Elijah Solum 14-87, Hunter Holland 12-75, Team 2-(-19).

PASSING

Mountain Iron-Buhl: Asher Zubich 13 completions, 24 attempts, 2 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 168 yards; Damian Tapio 0-1-0-0, 0 yards. Spring Grove: Elijah Solum 17-35-2-1, 186 yards; Caleb Griffin 0-1-0-0, 0 yards.

RECEIVING

Mountain Iron-Buhl: Riley Busch 4-76, Nic Jesch 4-49, Damian Tapio 4-29, Braylen Keith 1-14. Spring Grove: Tysen Grinde 7-101, Ethan Couch 4-33, Caleb Griffin 2-25, Jaxon Strinmoen 2-4, Hunter Holland 1-13, Emmett Engeldinger 1-10.

Guy N. Limbeck is a Rochester native who has been working at a daily newspaper since 1981. He has worked at the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Guy at 507-285-7724 or glimbeck@postbulletin.com.
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