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Rushford-Peterson holds off Fillmore Central for Section 1A championship

Junior Grady Hengel scored the game's lone touchdown and sealed the win with a late interception as Rushford-Peterson nipped Fillmore Central 7-0 in the Section 1A football title game.

Rushford-Peterson celebrates section title.jpg
The Rushford-Peterson football team, including quarterback Malachi Bunke (holding section trophy), Cade Hanson (34) and Carson Thompson (55) celebrate after beating Fillmore Central 7-0 in the Section 1A championship game on Friday in Winona. Post Bulletin file phto / Guy N. Limbeck

WINONA — Last year Grady Hengel was running cross country for Rushford-Peterson. On Friday night the junior made two big plays to help the Trojans win the Section 1A football championship.

Hengel scored the game's only touchdown and also had a big interception at the end of the game as top-seeded Rushford-Peterson, ranked No. 3 in the state in Class A, nipped No. 2 Fillmore Central 7-0 at Paul Giel Field.

“It’s awesome, especially to do it with this group of guys,” Hengel said. “It’s crazy. I just remember the past few years haven’t been our best. But we didn’t quit, we haven’t backed down whatsoever and we came out here and got a great win."

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Rushford-Peterson (11-0) used a stellar defensive effort on a windy night in Winona and got just enough offense to win its first section football title since 2016.
“It’s special, especially with this group of guys,” R-P senior quarterback/defensive back Malachi Bunke said. “This is what we dreamed about. I grew up looking at my older brother, he didn’t quite make it to state. And one of my lifetime friends, he made it to state. And I definitely wanted to be there, so for that dream to come true, it’s amazing.”

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With the wind at their backs, the Trojans scored the game's lone touchdown in the second quarter. Hengel had a 25-yard run to set up the 80-yard drive and then he caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Bunke to cap it off.

“Malachi’s awesome,” Hengel said. “We had a great setup with the wind, threw a nine route. It was just a perfect ball. Great catch, got hit a little bit, touchdown.”

The R-P had just 158 yards on offense. But the Trojans defense held Fillmore Central to a mere 138 yards. The Falcons didn't have many scoring chances, but they made a bid at the end of the game. The Falcons drove to the R-P 23 in the closing two minutes and faced a third-and-7.

Hengel then stepped in front of a Dillon O'Connor pass for a clutch interception with 1:57 left. O'Connor returned from an injury and was playing for the first time in a month. He was 13-for-26 passing for 118 yards.

“I knew it was a crossing route and I tried to get in front of it,” Hengel said. “Ended up getting in front of it and caught the ball.”

“We’re pretty happy we’ve got him and our cross country team is at state so everybody’s happy,” R-P coach Davin Thompson said of Hengel.

Hengel's second huge play of the game sealed the victory.

“The kids had an opportunity, we were in position,” Fillmore Central coach Chris Mensink said. “And that’s all you can ask for in a big game, you want an opportunity.”

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After Hengel's interception, R-P picked up its only first down of the second half when Bunke ran a bootleg on a third-and-3 play.

“I’m so proud of these kids, they just battled,” Thompson said.

Thompson was also thrilled with his defense.

“To basically stop the run with three linemen and two linebackers is just a testament to those guys,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the Rushford-Peterson defensive linemen and linebackers excelled during the game, stopping the run and forcing Fillmore Central into a one-dimensional passing team. The Falcons had just 30 yards rushing on 22 attempts.

“It’s definitely nice having an amazing D-line,” Bunke said.

“We’ve played well all year defensively, offensively, too,” Thompson said. “We told them some day there’s going to be a game that is going to be 7-0 and we’re going to have to do it. I guess we were right.”

Rushford-Peterson will play Section Four champion Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa in the Class A state quarterfinals at 7 p.m. on Nov. 12 at Crown College in St. Bonifacius.

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“We’ve got 11 seniors … they’ve just been building and building and building,” Thompson said. “I’m so happy for them.”

Fillmore Central, which has just four seniors, closes the season 9-2.

“It hurts tonight when you have that opportunity, but they’ll remember this for a long time,” Mensink said. “We have a young team so hopefully they gained some great experience. Potential is potential, so hopefully they use that in the offseason and continue to get better and take this program to the next step.”

RUSHFORD-PETERSON 7, FILLMORE CENTRAL 0

Fillmore Central 0-0-0-0 — 0

Rushford-Peterson 0-7-0-0 — 7

Second Quarter

R-P — Grady Hengel 26 pass from Malachi Bunke (Hengel kick), 4:49.

TEAM TOTALS

FC — R-P

First downs 8 — 9

Total Net Yards 138 — 158

Rushes-Yards 22-30 — 30-85

Passing Yards 118 — 73

Comp.-att.-int. 13-26-1 — 6-14-0

Penalties-Yds. 3-35 — 7-55

Fumbles-lost 4-0 — 0-0

Punts-ave. 7-29.1 — 7-33.4

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing

Fillmore Central: Alec Sikkink 11-36, Jayce Kiehne 1-9, Jake ishbaugher 1-8. Bryce Corson 5-4, Dillon O'Connor 5-(-21). Rushford-Peterson: Hadyn Kahoun 13-34, Grady Hengel 4-28, Alex Ronnenberg 1-14, Malachi Bunke 11-6, Brady Gile 1-3.

Passing

Fillmore Central : Dillon O'Connor 13 comp., 26 att., 1 int., 118 yards. Rushford-Peterson : Malachi Bunke 6-for-14, 1 TD, 73 yards.

Receiving

Fillmore Central : Bryce Corson 6-63, Jayce Kiehne 6-46, Alex Sikkink 1-9. Rushford-Peterson : Alex Ronnenberg 2-37, Justin Ruberg 2-9, Grady Hengel 1-26, Tommy Ekern 1-1.

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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