One of the best defensive performances coach Jeff Schlieff witnessed in his 24 years at Spring Lake Park owed to a player he jokingly dubbed "Mr. Hands."
Defensive tackle Luke Onstad grabbed the third Spring Lake Park interception of the fourth quarter, returning it 25 yards for the clinching touchdown in a 14-0 victory against Mankato West on Saturday in a Class 5A semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Spring Lake Park (12-0), state champion in 1991, will play Elk River in the Prep Bowl on Saturday.
Onstad, who last scored a touchdown in seventh grade, got stymied by two Mankato West blockers at the line of scrimmage, spied quarterback Robert Meidl and pounced.
"All of a sudden he threw it, the guys let go and I was wide open," said Onstad, who stuck his left arm into the air and snared the ball.
The Scarlets were forced to pass the ball after senior running back C.J. Terry, the team's top rusher with 1,508 yards, left the game in the second quarter with a dislocated elbow. Teammates paid tribute before Terry left the field on a cart. But the emotional toll lingered.
"We just thought we had to fight harder because without him we definitely lost something big," Meidl said.
Mankato West (11-1) trailed 7-0 at halftime and battled to the end. Spring Lake Park's defense, however, made the difference.
Meidl and Dawson Cooper connected on a 47-yard pass to Spring Lake Park's 27-yard line in the fourth quarter. But Panthers lineman Dylan Kahlstorf ended the drive by knocking the ball loose from Meidl on fourth down.
Big plays kept coming, with interceptions by Cade McMahon, Brad Cooper and Onstad.
Spring Lake Park's offense clicked on just one drive. Quarterback Zach Ojile's 50-yard run to the Scarlets 3-yard line set up a short Nick Robinson scoring run for a 7-0 lead at halftime.
Then Ojile, 24-0 as a starting quarterback, left the field during the ensuing Mankato West drive. Athletic trainers taped Ojile's left ankle on the bench. He did not run the ball in the second half.