State football: Andover comeback falls short against Hawks

Down 13-0 less than three minutes into the Class 5A state quarterfinal, Andover (7-4) looked to be headed in the wrong direction against Chaska (11-0) in a blustery Kuhlman Stadium in Edina Nov. 9.

Andover running back Derek McLaughlin, left, keeps a Chaska defender at an armslength during one of 38 carries in the Huskies 21-20 loss in the Class 5A state quarterfinals at Edina Nov. 9. McLaughlin ran for 108 yards and also passed for a touchdown to Chris Larson.

Andover running back Derek McLaughlin, left, keeps a Chaska defender at an armslength during one of 38 carries in the Huskies 21-20 loss in the Class 5A state quarterfinals at Edina Nov. 9. McLaughlin ran for 108 yards and also passed for a touchdown to Chris Larson. Photo by Bill Jones

Credit the Huskies for not giving up after losing two kickoffs to fumbles and an interception, but it was Chaska that came out on top in the end for a 21-20 win.

The Hawks recovered the ball on the opening kickoff and running back Kolby Seiffert scored from nine yards out on a double-reverse.

Then Chaska’s Matt Theisen stepped in front of Andover’s Jake McNallan to intercept a Connor Wilkie pass and Chaska quarterback Justin Arnold completed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Buesgens, who blew through the Huskies secondary to make it 13-0.

Andover once again lost control of the ball on the ensuing kickoff and Chaska recovered the ball on the 25-yard line.

Chaska’s Sieffert coughed the ball up where Andover’s Kyle Kettler recovered the fumble. The Huskies offense had a firm grasp of the football and marched it 15 plays before stalling inside the Hawks red zone.

With 1:21 left in the opening quarter, Connor found leading receiver Chris Larson on a 27-yard touchdown play to put Andover on the scoreboard, 13-7. Larson’s 15th score of the season came on a sideline route infront of the Huskies bench.

“You couldn’t draw it up any worse than the way we started,” Andover coach Rich Wilkie said. “For the kids to hang in there and believe says a lot about their character.”

“It’s just disappointing to give them such an advantage because we gave up one touchdown after the first three minutes of the game.”

Andover nearly completed the comeback thanks in part to the offense for sustaining drives and the defense for not surrendering to Chaska.

Andover receiver Chris Larson, left, braces for a tackle after catching one of six passes in the 21-20 loss to Chaska Nov. 9. Larson had two touchdown catches in the Class 5A state quarterfinal.

Andover receiver Chris Larson, left, braces for a tackle after catching one of six passes in the 21-20 loss to Chaska Nov. 9. Larson had two touchdown catches in the Class 5A state quarterfinal. Photo by Bill Jones

“Persistence pays off and that’s what we’ve been saying all season,” Huskies senior running back Derek McLaughlin said after amassing 108 yards on 38 carries and he also threw a touchdown in the third quarter. “We knew we had a shot and it wasn’t over and it just didn’t work our way today,” he said.

Chaska coach Lambert Brown admitted the successful start by his team helped. “[Andover] is a good football team and we knew it was going to be a good game and certainly the momentum early helped,” Brown said.

The Hawks made the most of the early chances in a repeat of its section final win against Mankato West.

Connor completed 15-of-30 passes for 183 yards for two touchdowns and two interceptions. He completed five-of-12 passes in the second half for 76 yards, after severely spraining the index finger on his throwing hand late in the first half.

Connor knocked his hand on a helmet on the follow-through of a pass and played throughout the second half with two fingers taped.

“He’s a tough dude and a warrior out there,” Wilkie said. “If people were wondering why he wasn’t completing more passes, be more impressed that he was even completing passes out there.”

According to Wilkie, the injury, combined with throwing against the wind in the fourth quarter, only compounded the problem.

“Connor just said, ‘I’m playing.’ So that’s what it [was] and nobody knew about it,” said Wilkie, his father.

“Going into halftime it wasn’t feeling the best,” Connor said.

Of course, the injury altered the game plan, but running the ball and staying offensively balanced was still the recipe for the Huskies.

“[Chaska] did some things defensively to us that made it hard but [McLaughlin] runs really hard and our offensive line did a lot of good things,” Wilkie said. “Our defense came to play today to create the turnovers was phenomenal.”

After the early scores, Andover’s defense kept the Hawks offense in check and forced five turnovers.

Chaska marched the ball 80 yards on seven plays over 1:55 to open the second half. The drive was capped by a 19-yard touchdown pass into the wind from Justin Arnold to receiver Garrett Gleiden to give the Hawks a 21-7 lead.

Andover kick returner Austin Lorch, middle, loses the ball on the opening kickoff during the 21-20 loss to Chaska in the Class 5A state quarterfinals Nov. 9.

Andover kick returner Austin Lorch, middle, loses the ball on the opening kickoff during the 21-20 loss to Chaska in the Class 5A state quarterfinals Nov. 9.Photo by Bill Jones

That would also be the only points for the Hawks after the 9:18 mark of the first quarter.

Chaska, known for its stout defense, only surrendered one touchdown in the first half from week three until the state tournament. Three linebackers collected more than a dozen tackles, led by Carter Groskreutz and Jake Young with 15 each. Peyton Sanders added 13 tackles. Chaska collected eight tackles for loss and sacked Connor Wilkie twice.

McLaughlin’s 2.8 yards-per-carry average might not turn many heads, but many of those yards were gained after the first contact or evading would-be tacklers for negative losses.

The Huskies offensive line opened running and passing lanes or made key blocks down the field in particular from senior Adam Iskierka and Grant Nelson.

On the Huskies opening drive of the second half after the touchdown, Huskies sophomore linebacker Zach Sitarz ripped the ball loose from Hawks running back Kolby Seiffert after Connor Wilkie threw an interception.

“He played so great today and the d-line put so much pressure on them to create the turnovers,” Wilkie said. “Sitarz was able to execute and did what he was supposed to do today. He’s strong, athletic and fast and he did a great job.”

Chaska’s next offensive drive ended abruptly with Andover senior Jason Dilly’s interception returned to the Chaska 14-yard line. Fellow senior Austin Lorch made the initial play on the Hawks receiver before senior Kyle Kettler deflected the ball into the air for Dilly to catch.

“These guys have been playing so long and some of these kids have played more varsity games than any other senior class we’ve had.” Wilkie said. “Their experience you really start relying on it and they came through today and made plays. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”

The ensuing drive stalled on the Hawks nine-yard line, but the Huskies’ good fortune was not over.

Chaska’s Matt Theisen, right, intercepts a pass intended for Jake McNallan from Connor Wilkie on the Huskies first offensive drive in a 21-20 loss to Chaska in the State 5A state quarterfinals Nov. 9.

Chaska’s Matt Theisen, right, intercepts a pass intended for Jake McNallan from Connor Wilkie on the Huskies first offensive drive in a 21-20 loss to Chaska in the State 5A state quarterfinals Nov. 9.Photo by Bill Jones

Arnold, Chaska’s quarterback and punter, tried to reach for the ball as it was snapped over his head on fourth down. He recovered the ball at the Chaska two-yard line to give Andover the ball near the end zone.

The Hawks weren’t going to surrender the score without a fight.

After Andover was backed up to the 10-yard line Huskies running back McLaughlin completed a well-timed halfback pass to receiver Chris Larson in the end zone for his second touchdown of the day and 15th of the season (six catches for 65 yards).

Connor admitted that part of the motivation to use the halfback pass came from his injured finger. “At the time, my finger was throbbing quite a bit and [McLaughlin] can throw it pretty well and we got lucky,” he said.

The score cut the lead to 21-14 with 32 seconds left in the third quarter.

Dramatic finish

Andover needed to find one more score and they did exactly that with 1:51 on the clock.

The Huskies drove the field in a game-high 12 plays over 77 yards in 3:43 to pull within one point, 21-20 with 1:51 left.

Andover was down to fourth-and-one on Chaska’s 11-yard line when Connor rolled to his left and completed the touchdown pass to sophomore Jake Geier for his first touchdown of the season, into the wind.

“He made a good play on it,” Connor said on his first bootleg all season.

Chaska sent nine players into the box to hurry Connor, but that backfired in the end.

Andover just started working on that play the week leading up to the game. Given Connor’s injury, Wilkie hoped for a run for the first down instead of the touch needed on a pass into the end zone. “He sold [the handoff to McLaughlin] so well,” the Andover coach said. “{Connor’s] such a gamer. He’ll deal with the pain later and managed to get that ball off and Jake made a heck of a catch.”

Needing the extra point kick to tie the game, Andover kicker Alex Probert misfired on the kick sending the ball into the back of the Huskies line to keep the score 21-20 less than two minutes left.

Jason Olson is at
jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

 

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