The two-point margin separating BOLD from a berth in a state football championship game sickened coach Steve Solem, especially when he factored in the pair of special teams letdowns.
Before the Class 2A semifinal, the Warriors had not given up a blocked punt all season. They gave up two Thursday morning against Caledonia.
"Not even close," Solem responded when asked if his team had been blocked all season. "That blocked punt is the biggest play, and it got to us."
After not giving up any points from the first blocked punt in the second quarter, BOLD wasn't so lucky the second time. Its next opportunity to punt was blocked again, this time in the end zone for a Caledonia touchdown and a 13-7 lead in an eventual 26-24 victory.
"You have to wonder if it was us on the block or they saw something," Solem said.
Caledonia saw something.
Plowing through the middle for the first block, Zach Kasten got his hands on the kick. Attempting to plug the hole in the second half, BOLD used an extra blocker in the middle, but it left the edge open for Levi Schmitz.
"On the second one, [BOLD] brought a third guy to the center and I saw the edge was open, so I went off the edge," Schmitz said after falling on his block for one of his two touchdowns on the day.Aerial attack
Becker couldn't be stopped in the air in the Class 4A semifinal. Quarterback Tommy Benson threw for 285 yards while Hutchinson's McKinley Anderson threw for only 12.
Though Benson's favorite receiver, Joel Hopkins, climbed into the record books with 14 receptions, Becker fell 28-14. Hopkins collected 142 receiving yards, and 15 of the Bulldogs' 16 first downs were through the air.Lakeville North unity
The Lakeville North student fan base was a walking hashtag. About 90 percent of the students, and even some parents, in attendance at the Class 6A semifinal wore shirts with "#NorthOrNone" on the back and "Dome Sweet Dome, Round 2" on the front.
Student Mitch Bermel was one of the many sporting the red top and said the idea came from football captains Zach Creighton and Charlie Peters, who wanted more unity among all Panthers athletics.Mentally prepared
Playing on a big stage felt normal for Jackson County Central senior Darick Vancura.
The running back and linebacker spent the past four years wrestling in the state meet on the floor of Xcel Energy Center and won an individual title as a junior.
"It helps a lot," said Vancura about how his Xcel success helped prepare for his visit to the Metrodome. "You can't lose in big situations. You have to focus."
Though he kept his focus by leading his team with 182 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Jackson Country Central's season came to an end with a 27-20 loss to Moose Lake-Willow River. Vancura is the sixth player in program history to run for 1,000 yards in a season.
Collected 247 all-purpose yards and one touchdown, rushing 20 times for 105 yards, catching five passes for 68 yards and returning three kickoffs for 74 yards. He even filled in as backup punter for a 43-yard kick.
24 Points given up by Caledonia, its most since 2008, but the impressive output still wasn't enough for BOLD, which lost 26-24.
6 Punts in the third quarter of the Class 6A semifinal. Lakeville North and Rosemount each had three.
1 Hutchinson trailed for the first time this season after Becker scored the Class 4A semifinal's first touchdown midway through the first quarter.
3 Moose Lake-Willow River's seventh consecutive state appearance has led to a championship game appearance for the third time in four years.
14 Receptions for receiver Joel Hopkins in Becker's loss, tying him for the fourth-best single-game output in state tournament history.
"I never got to play in the Dome for baseball. I only got to play football. It's weird, especially since I was drafted by the Twins. Every time I'm here I think, 'What if I could have made it?' "
-- Jackson County Central assistant coach Wade Wacker, who was drafted by the Twins in 1987 and played on the 1985 Jackson Class B state championship team.
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