3A: Back-and-forth struggle ends with St. Croix on top

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 26, 2011 - 9:56 PM

The Crusaders offense chewed up yards, but the defense needed a late stop to prevail.

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The target was obvious, as it had been all game. The only question was whether St. Croix Lutheran would do anything about it.

When it mattered most, the Crusaders did what they had to do, knocking down a potential tying two-point conversion with 8 seconds left in the game, clinching a 34-32 victory over Fairmont for the Class 3A championship.

The play -- Matt Olson swatting away a pass from Fairmont's Ben Kain to his favorite target, Bryce Holm -- put the finishing touches on an arrhythmia-inducing fourth quarter in which 30 points were scored and the lead changed hands three times.

"It was one of those games where you get to take a 5-second sigh of relief and then you had to go back out and do it again," said Olson, who does double duty as the Crusaders quarterback.

The game was billed as a matchup between St. Croix Lutheran's running game and Fairmont's passing attack. Neither disappointed.

The Crusaders (14-0) rushed for 353 yards, with halfbacks Wesley Tucker and Jackson Goplen each topping 100 yards. Tucker rushed for one touchdown, a 69-yard burst in the first quarter, and Goplen ran for two and caught a third.

Kain, who plays much bigger than his 5-9 frame, was missing one of his favorite receivers, Adam Schultz, suspended for the game after being thrown out of the Cardinals' semifinal victory over Annandale.

But Holm stepped up to filled the void, catching eight passes for 163 yards and a Prep Bowl-record tying four touchdowns.

"With [Schultz] out, I knew Holm would be there," said Kain, who passed for 338 yards.

But it was an unexplainable failure that played over and over in Kain's mind in the moments following the game, a fumbled snap deep in St. Croix territory that ended a fourth-quarter drive that appeared destined for the end zone.

"I just can't stop thinking about that snap," he said. "I don't know what happened. We were so close."

St. Croix Lutheran, leading by two points at the time, used the newfound momentum to extend the lead to 34-26 with less than two minutes to play on a 36-yard run by Goplen. But the Crusaders failed on the two-point conversion, opening a window for a Fairmont rally.

"Yes, I was very nervous about that," St. Croix Lutheran coach Carl Lemke admitted. "We just didn't match up well against their passing game."

Kain drove Fairmont 59 yards in 1:37 without a timeout. They cut the lead to 34-32 on an 11-yard pass to Holm, setting up the tying two-point conversion try.

"We never stopped fighting, never gave up," Goplen said. "Even when we'd get down, we knew we could come back. That's what our team is all about."

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