Football: South St. Paul overcomes turnovers to gain state tournament berth

Game slips away from Hill-Murray in fourth quarter

On an unseasonably chilly Halloween, the Hill-Murray Pioneers' trip to South St. Paul for the Section 4AAAA football finals proved to be a frightful nightmare.

Things started well for the Pioneers, who took advantage of the Packers' three fumbles and led the entire first half. But the Packers, winners of the Metro East Conference, got back on track late in the game for a 35-21 victory.

The Packers (9-1) will face the Stewartville Tigers (9-1), at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8 at Rochester Community and Technical College in the quarterfinal round of the Class AAAA tournament. South St. Paul, 9-1, is returning to the state tournament for the second straight year.

After the Oct. 31 game, head coach Chad Sexauer praised the Pioneers. "They came out with a great game plan against us. We have to tip our hats to them. They played really, really well.

"Marshawn (Wilson) is a heck of an athlete, and (Sam) Westby is also a phenomenal athlete."

Sexauer then addressed his team's comeback after a shaky beginning. "We started to take care of some things we needed to take care of -- things like not turning the ball over. ... Once that happened, we played the way our kids can play."

From the Hill-Murray perspective, coach Tony Danna said, "Give them some credit; they made some nice plays at the end. They did some things that we hadn't seen. They just played better.

"It's disappointing, but I'm proud of this group. These seniors played their hearts out the whole season and this whole game.

"They gave a solid effort for the whole game. It just wasn't our night," Danna noted.

The Pioneers gained the ball on the Packers' 31-yard line after South St. Paul took the opening kickoff, ran three plays and fumbled.

Seven plays were topped off with Wilson scampering 11 yards into the end zone. Eric Burns booted the PAT and with 4:53 gone in the first period the Pioneers were up 7-0.

South St. Paul came back in the second quarter when quarterback Dan Pietruszewski lofted a 30-yard aerial that was pulled down in end zone by Trenton McCloud. The extra-point boot was wide, and the teams headed into the locker rooms at halftime with Hill-Murray owning the 7-6 margin.

Early in the third quarter the Pioneers moved to a 14-6 leeway when quarterback Westby ran nine yards into the end zone and Burns made the PAT.

The Packers came back with a 72-yard, 10-play drive. A huge play was a 28-yard pass - Pietruszewski to Austin Brandecker - that set up a McCloud eight-yard run for a touchdown. Pietruszewski then teamed up with McCloud for the two-point conversion, and it was 14-14.

In the fourth the Packers put the game away. Just 2:36 into the quarter Pietruszewski hit Theodore Frid on a play that traveled 32 yards for a touchdown. Nick Ricci kicked the PAT and South St. Paul had its first lead at 21-14.

The South St. Paul margin lasted just over a minute.

On the Pioneers' next possession, Westby pitched the ball to Mike Pierce, who connected with Davis Zarembinski on a 53-yard pass for a touchdown. Burns was true on the PAT to knot the score at 21-21.

The ensuing kickoff was returned to the Hill-Murray 48. A couple of plays later Pietruszewski tossed a seven-yard aerial that was pulled in by McCloud for a touchdown. Ricci was good with the PAT, and the Packers led 28-21.

On their next possession the Pioneers self-destructed when the Packers defense, combined with penalties, pushed them to just inches outside their goal line.

A fumble proved costly when the Packers' senior outside line backer Treyton Mattson fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

Ricci's PAT with just 2:31 remaining put the final points on the board in the 35-21 South St. Paul win.

Wally Wakefield can be reached at


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