This story originally appeared in a 1996 edition of the Northfield News and has been slightly edited for length.
When the legs give out, a good running back relies on his vision to get him through a football game.
With his hip aching and his team nursing a 3-0 lead midway through the fourth quarter of Friday’s section title game against South St. Paul, Northfield junior Matt Geiger spied a developing block by backfield mate Jay Larsen, cut across the field, used Larsen’s block and out-raced Packer linebacker Beau LaBore down the sideline for an 89-yard touchdown that gave the Raiders some breathing room on their way to a 10-0 win and a fourth consecutive Section 1A title.
Northfield, now doubly-christened as Missota Conference and Section 1A champs, advances to the first round of the Minnesota state football playoffs for a fourth straight year.
Geiger’s long run, which afforded him half of his 158 yards rushing on the night, sucked the air right out of South St. Paul attack ad reversed any momentum the Packers held from having limited the Raiders to a field goal for the better part of the game.
South St. Paul’s comeback chances after Geiger’s TD were quickly snuffed out when, on the Packers’ ensuing possession, Raider linebacker Hans Bengston picked off a Steve Ryan pass near midfield. From that point, Northfield sealed the win with several rushing first downs.
Northfield Head Coach Bubba Sullivan was impressed with, but not surprised by Geiger’s run.
“Matt has great vision,” Sullivan said. “When he finds a hole, he goes after it and he’s quick enough to get through.”
“I’ve been cutting back against the grain all year,” Geiger said. “My hap had been hurting since the first quarter, but I was able to get through the hole and make it down field.”
Larsen and Geiger, the Raiders’ left-right combination punch against opposing defenses all season, have no problem sharing yardage or blocking for each other.
“If I’m not running well, I work on blocking for Matt,” said Larsen, who carried 16 times for 80 yards.
“We had poor execution at a crucial time,” SSP coach Randy Bjorklund said. “All year, we’ve given up some yardage, but as long as we’ve avoided the big plays, we’ve been fine. Tonight we didn’t on one occasion.”
As important as Geiger’s run was to the outcome, it was the Raiders’ defense that dominated the game.
Led by linebacker J.J, Franz’ 11 tackles, lineman John Simones’ two sacks and safety Mark Mokoff’s two interceptions, Northfield held a Packers offense loaded with big linemen — and a speedy quarterback in junior Steve Ryan — to a mere 110 yards of total offense. South St. Paul completed just one pass, a seven-yard completion from Ryan to LaBore on the first play of the second quarter.
LaBore, a tough all-purpose player, led the SSP attack with 37 yards rushing on 14 carries.
Northfield got the only points it would need when Christian White’s 26-yard field goal sailed through the uprights at 3:08 of the first quarter. The kick, which would have been good from 40 yards, capped a seven-minute drive, highlighted by quarterback Keith Hagen’s crucial third down completions on sideline patters to Mokoff.
“At the time, that field goal didn’t seem like that big a deal,” Sullivan said. “You never know in this game when points are really going to count.”
The Packers’ best chance to score came early in the third quarter.
After the Raiders drove to the South St. Paul 31-yard line, the Packers defense stiffened, forcing Northfield to settle for a 48-yard White field goal attempt — which the Packers blocked.
Ryan, playing safety, picked up the bouncing ball and raced back all the way to midfield. From there he marched the Packer offense down to the Raider 15-yard line.
On fourth-and-five from the 15, Simones overwhelmed his blocker and tracked down Ryan, sacking the quarterback for a loss and killing the drive.
South St. Paul never got that close again.
After the game, in a jubilant locker room, Sullivan beseeched his troops to keep their larger goal — a Class A title — in mind.
“I guarantee that when we (coaches) watch this game film, we’ll find plenty of stuff to work on. We can’t let our fundamentals slip right now. Enjoy this win, but get ready to keep working.”Reach Sports Editor Michael Hughes at 645-1106 or follow him on Twitter @NFNewsSports. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.