– The enthusiasm that remains for Hutchinson Tigers football was clear 2½ hours before Friday night’s kickoff against another collection of Tigers from Marshall in a Class 4A section final.

The aluminum bleachers on the home side of the Hutch field hold roughly 800 spectators. And now, at 4:30 p.m., one-third of those spaces had been claimed with blankets and other materials taped to the rows of benches.

The reports were that some of Hutch’s veteran football watchers had arrived Thursday to mark their preferred locations. Others showed up before noon Friday.

John Arlt, the analyst for KDUZ’s radio broadcasts of Hutch football, was asked if this seat-claiming was a tradition or if this battle of unbeatens was a special occasion.

“I played here in 1984, and the townspeople were claiming seats then,” Arlt said. “Hutchinson has loved its football for a long time.”

There has been a numerical twist to this season for Hutch: This is the 50th with a Rostberg in charge. Father Grady was coach for 29 seasons (1970-98), with state titles in 1983, ’84 and as a sendoff in 1998. Son Andy is in his 21st season, with state titles in 2012 and ’13.

The Tigers were loaded in 2014 and favorites for a three-peat. And then in the semi­finals, playing outdoors when Minneapolis was between domes, Hutchinson was upset by DeLaSalle on a frozen afternoon in Prior Lake.

That was Hutchinson’s last section title and appearance in the state tournament’s final eight. Marshall, with current North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance running the show, was the section champ from 2015 to 2017, and Waseca won it in 2018.

Hutchinson put an end to that nonsense in front of numerous wet blankets — beating Marshall 28-14 on a cold, rainy (and briefly snowy) night.

There were a few minutes in the fourth quarter when Marshall had hope to deny Hutch once again.

Gabe Raini, an extra-quick running back, had gone from midfield to the goal line early in the fourth, and then a touchdown and two-point conversion cut Hutch’s lead to 22-14.

When Marshall got the ball back, and talented quarterback Konnor Aufenthie hit Dean Pochardt on a 34-yard completion near midfield, the Hutch fans were facing the hat trick of cold, rain and anxiety.

And then Marshall Piehl, a sophomore sprinter, stepped in front of an Aufenthie pass, and headed 50 yards to the end zone, and all was well with Hutch football:

The Tigers were back in the state tournament for the 23rd time, and with only a victory next Friday over Fridley (at Hopkins) away from getting a first chance to the play in the shiny, new ZygiDome that became home to the state semifinals and Prep Bowl in 2016.

“We had been practicing against that pass play all week,” Piehl said. “When I saw it, I knew it was my ball. I had to make sure to hold onto it.”

Hutchinson and Marshall were both 8-0 in the regular season. Hutch was rated No. 1 in the final 4A ratings and Marshall at No. 8.

Hutchinson’s Russell Corrigan, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound, three-sport athlete, is headed for Boise State and projected as a tight end. This season, Andy Rostberg and his staff moved Corrigan to quarterback, where he throws an acceptable lefthanded pass and also steams forward as if a single-wing tailback from days of yore.

Marshall has senior left tackle Yahya Black going to Iowa, and senior tight end/linebacker Trey Steinbach to NDSU.

Those are the Division I recruits. There were plenty of other exceptional athletes on the late-autumn turf, including Tyler Schiller, a senior running back headed to St. Cloud State — to play baseball.

“Tyler’s been with us for four years,” Andy Rostberg said. “He’s been a hard-working kid for us, and that was a great game he gave us today.”

Schiller carried 25 times for 186 yards. That outdid Corrigan, who smashed up the middle for 77 yards on 21 carries. Hutch ran for 274 yards vs. a Marshall defense that had given up 100 yards only once previously.

Schiller was congratulated on how well he handled Hutch’s choppy turf.

“When everyone is playing physical, and the blockers are opening holes like that, you don’t pay any attention to the field,” Schiller said.

Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing sports@startribune.com and including his name in the subject line.