MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The one-two punch of Wesley Tucker and Jackson Goplen made sure St. Croix Lutheran’s perfect season stayed intact.
Goplen scored three times, including twice in a back-and-forth fourth quarter, and the Crusaders held on to beat Fairmont 34-32 in the Class 3A state championship game Saturday afternoon. It is the school’s first title.
Tucker and Matt Olson also scored for the top-ranked Crusaders (14-0).
“You just got to play your heart out, and just have fun, too,” Goplen said. “It was a great game. … Emotions were up and down. It’s just crazy.”
St. Croix Lutheran finished with 270 yards on the ground. Tucker ran for 180 yards — including a 69-yard score — to finish the season with 1,888 yards; Goplen had 103 yards, finishing with 1,959 for the season.
Ben Kain threw for 338 yards, including four touchdown passes to Bryce Holm, for the fifth-ranked Cardinals (12-2). The duo hooked up from 11 yards out with eight seconds to play, but the 2-point pass attempt was knocked away.
“It was so nice to see us make all the necessary plays, especially when it’s a state title game,” said Olson, the St. Croix Lutheran quarterback. “A game like this, going back and forth the way it did, this is just an amazing feeling.”
Trailing by four points midway through the fourth quarter, Goplen scored on a 28-yard, fourth-down reception for a 28-26 lead. Olson faked a handoff up the middle, and another for a tight end reverse before finding Goplen all alone down the left sideline. It was just the team’s second completion of the game.
“We just put that play in last week,” said St. Croix Lutheran coach Carl Lemke.
After Eric Montgomery recovered a botched Fairmont snap at the Crusaders 10 with 2:28 to play, Tucker broke off a 49-yard run. Three plays later Goplen burst up the middle for a 36-yard score with less than 2 minutes to play and a 34-26 lead, but the 2-point run failed.
“I was just thinking, ‘I got to hold onto this ball, I can’t have it punched out,'” Goplen said. “Then I knew we had to come up with a stop on D. It didn’t happen right away, but we got it done when we needed.”
Tied at halftime, Goplen scored on a 29-yard run and 2-point conversion midway through the third quarter for a 22-14 Crusaders lead, but Kain and Holm hooked up for a 28-yard score on fourth-and-25 early in the fourth. The two-point try failed.
Kain finished the season with nearly 2,600 passing yards.
“What a performance by him. We’ve been able to put our football team on his shoulders all year,” said Fairmont coach Mat Maloney.
Logan Jorgenson recovered a fumbled kickoff for the Cardinals with 9:29 to play and Kain found Holm for a 23-yard score and a 26-22 lead.
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