Football: Andover conversion falls short against Panthers to set up another Totino finale

Fans inside Panthers Stadium were treated to an action-packed finish as Spring Lake Park held on for a 27-26 win against Andover in the Section 4-AAAAA football semifinal Oct. 27.

Spring Lake Park running back Jared Evans, right pulls Andover’s Wesley Walstad, left, with time across the goal line during the first half. Photo by Bill Jones

Andover bookended the rare Saturday afternoon game with touchdowns as junior quarterback Connor Wilkie found Austin Lorch on the third offensive play of the game for a 74- yard touchdown 51 seconds into the game. The score was the first of three passing touchdowns for Wilkie, who three his third touchdown pass to Tyler Evans from 24 yards out to make it a one-point game, 27-26, with 1:26 remaining.

Andover coach Rich Wilkie decided to go for the two-point conversion and the lead, rather than kick the extra point to tie the game.

Wilkie had a great reason to go for the win as Andover was able to move the ball through the air. “I really thought it was the momentum we had, going 70 yards in 1:30, but we had a lot of philosophies going into extra points, being on the road in sections, we had the play I wanted to go for the win. I wouldn’t change the call,” Wilkie said. “Most teams play man [coverage] in that area and it works much better if they play man and they played a soft zone and saw the crossing action better.”

Andover receiver Tyler Evans, middle, is wrapped up for a tackle. Photo by Bill Jones

Connor sent a looping pass into the corner of the endzone where Lorch was headed. As the receiver reached out for the ball, Spring Lake Park’s Ryan Amundson knocked it to loose to end the threat and preserve the slim lead.

Panthers coach Jeff Schlieff said, “We call it a fence defense and they line up like a fence and don’t let anything through.”

That final play capped a wild fourth quarter when Spring Lake Park outscored Andover 15-12.

Spring Lake Park dominated the time of possession (32:57-15: 03) with a big chunk of that coming in the second half opening drive. The Panthers took the ball 85 yards on 15 plays in its patented five-yard per play form and took seven minutes, 45 seconds off the clock in the process to make cut the lead to 14-12. Spring Lake Park’s Jared Evans scored his second touchdown of the afternoon on a similar play up the middle this time from 13 yards out. He scored from 10 yards out in the first quarter en route to a team-high 21 carries for 103 yards.

Schlieff said the long drive did a lot to keep his team fresh.  “We have a lot of two-way guys and when they come out fresh we can play with anybody,” he said. “When they start to get a little tired our offense sputters a little because it all starts with the big guys up front. If they’re not moving the pile we then we don’t get much going. That happened in the second quarter a little, but that really set the tone to come out in the second half.”

One of the players that is a key on both sides of the ball is junior Eji Ejiya. Offensively he had 19 carries for 73 yards and as a linebacker in the middle of the defense he contributed greatly with key tackles and knocked down a couple passes in the process. He was out there for the two-point conversion and said the team was lucky to have Amundson in the right position at the right time. “We were looking for play-action and our defense played it well,” Ejiya said.

Andover’s quick-strike attack made it 14-6 at  2:37 before halftime with a little trickery as running back Derek McLaughlin hit receiver Tyler Evans on a halfback pass for a 62-yard score. The Panthers defense moved in on McLaughlin as Evans broke down the sideline past the Panthers secondary. McLaughlin hit Evans in stride at the 15-yard line in front of the Huskies sideline.

Eji Ejiya, middle, runs past an Andover defender during Saturday’s game. Ejiya had 73 yards rushing in the win. Photo by Bill Jones

“That was a play we had in our back pocket and the cornerback bit really hard and it was one of those things where [Evans] was almost too open that it made it a tough throw,” Wilkie.

That was one of the final plays for the Huskies before the fourth quarter. Andover only ran three offensive plays in the third quarter, but still led 14-12 after three quarters.

Wilkie found Chris Larson less than two minutes into the fourth quarter on a 62-yard strike to make it 21-12.

Spring Lake Park seemed to have momentum as backup, turned starting quarterback Austin Swenson took an option-keeper 11 yards in for the score after his only completion went 39 yards to set up the score. Aaron Murphy caught the pass as he sprinted past the Huskies secondary into the open field for the big reception. The score ignited the Panthers sideline and bleachers in a loud roar for the first time as the home team tied the game 20-20 with 5:34 left. Evans ran the ball in for the two-point conversion.

That passion remained when a botched punt return by Andover ricocheted off the returner, skipped back toward the end zone where both sides had trouble collecting the ball before Panthers junior Tyreese Jackson finally fell on the ball in the end zone for six points. The score, followed by the extra point kick, made it 27-26 with 2:47 to go.

Andover needed just over a minute to march down on what appeared to be a tired Panthers defense. The Huskies used quick-fire passes to Evans and Larson to set up the final score. Wilkie found Evans on a crossing route in the corner of the end zone to tie the game 26-26 with 1:26 left. The two-point attempt fell incomplete and ended the Huskies hopes of another section final appearance.

Spring Lake Park travels to Totino-Grace to continue what has developed into quite a rivalry with the Eagles. The two met twice in 2010-11 with Totino winning both times, including the section final also played in Fridley, 32-6. Totino has ended the Panthers season from 2007 to 2010.

Section 7-AAAAA
Chisago Lakes 49, St. Francis 7

Chisago Lakes scored at least 12 points in each quarter except the first quarter of its Section 7-AAAAA semifinal game against fellow North Suburban Conference foe St. Francis Oct. 26.

The Wildcats were paced by Eric Brown who rushed for 166 of the team’s 404 rushing yards. Joshua Parks and Quade Zupko ran for 131 and 107 yards, respectively. Each rusher also picked up two touchdowns.

It was the third time the Saints were held to seven points or less and finished the season 2-8.

Class AAAAAA Round of 32
Blaine 21, Brainerd 0

The reward for Blaine’s first shutout of the season – a meeting with No. 1 ranked Edina in the Class AAAAAA Round of 16 Nov. 2.

The Bengals (6-3) traveled to Brainerd (6-3) for the second round match-up and returned with a 21-0 win Oct. 26.

Blaine linebacker Caleb Butler continued to disrupt offenses with a team-high 15 tackles (12 solos) and caused one fumble. Sam Kreigler and Ryan Grabek each had 11 tackles (five solos) and Josh Lamkin recovered two fumbles.

Blaine junior quarterback Alex Copa piled up 203 yards rushing but his two second half touchdowns broke a scoreless game until 6:42 remained in the third quarter. He scored from 16 and one yards.

Blaine senior Naji El-Araby scored on a run 37 yards out for the final score of the game, 55 seconds after Copa made it 14-0. El-Araby had three carries for 44 yards as Kunle Ayinde added 73 yards rushing on 13 carries and one reception for 15 yards. Copa completed 5-of-13 passes for 56 yards.

Osseo 28, Anoka 7
The Tornadoes were held to single digits for the second time this season and in as many weeks as No. 10 ranked Osseo defended its home turf in a 28-7 win Oct. 26.

Anoka’s Reid Lindsey scored the lone touchdown in the third quarter and finished with 63 yards rushing as the Tornadoes finished the season 3-6.

Maple Grove 39-14 Coon Rapids

Coon Rapids finished the season 0-9 for the first time since a 1-8 record in 2004 following its first round exit in the Class AAAAAA tournament at Maple Grove 39-14 Oct. 26.

The Cardinals scored 14 points for the third time this season, five points from a season-high 19 points which came in a 42-19 loss at Maple Grove Oct. 12.

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