MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — St. Croix Lutheran’s offense came through when it mattered most.
Joe Werz ran for a 69-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter and the Crusaders put up 22 points in the final 12 minutes to beat New London-Spicer 48-44 on Saturday in the Class 3A title game at the Prep Bowl.
Hans Klingenschmitt had 177 rushing yards and Trever Koester ran for 139 yards for St. Croix Lutheran (11-2), a private school in West St. Paul that won its second state championship in three years. Quarterback David Ponath threw three touchdown passes.
Saturday’s score was the most combined points scored in Prep Bowl history, beating the 91 scored by Triton and Luverne in 2006 and Cromwell and Lanesboro in 2010.
“I’m glad we had the ball last,” Crusaders coach Carl Lemke said. “We knew that they were very explosive offensively, and they certainly showed that.”
Adam Essler had 194 yards rushing for New London-Spicer (10-3), and quarterback Ryan Vraa threw for three scores.
“They made very good plays and we weren’t able to stop them when we had to,” Wildcats coach Dan Essler said.
Leading by 6 in the fourth, Werz went up the middle and sprinted to the end zone for a 42-28 St. Croix Lutheran lead. It was the only carry of the game for the senior, who’d been playing more in the secondary.
“He’s like a little lightning back,” Ponath said.
Jarrett Hatlestad’s 35-yard reception pulled the Wildcats within six points, but Klingenschmitt added a 10-yard score with 2:39 left to make it 48-36.
Adam Essler scored on a 64-yard kickoff return off a lateral, and the Wildcats nearly recovered an onside kick after the ball bounced with 2 minutes to go. However, the Crusaders recovered and ran out the clock.
New London-Spicer led by 2 points entering the fourth quarter before Caleb Olson caught a 28-yard scoring pass from Ponath for a 34-28 Crusaders lead.
“This was an exciting game that was played the way football should be played,” Lemke said. “There are so many aspects to the game of football and you saw them all today: passing, running, defense, kicking game.”
Tied at 20 midway through the third quarter, Olson intercepted a pass from Adam Essler and, combined with a personal foul against the Wildcats, the ball was advanced to the New London-Spicer 35. On first down, Ponath found Klingenschmitt and the senior sprinted to the end zone for a 26-20 lead.
St. Croix Lutheran appeared set to make a big defensive stand late in the third, but on fourth and 21, Vraa and Essler combined for a 37-yard touchdown reception for a 28-20 Wildcats lead.
“We knew that no matter how many times they scored, we could come back,” Ponath said.
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