This story was originally published in a 1996 edition of the Northfield News and has been slightly edited for length.
Yes, they left it all on the field. Yes, it was a great game, befitting of a great season. Yes, they came up just short, again.
But no, it wasn’t meant to be.
Such cliches, and their respectively trite answers, were all that remained for Raider fans and players alike after Northfield’s 7-3 loss to Mora in the state football championship Friday night at the Metrodome.
“I know it hurts right now,” Raider coach Bubba Sullivan said in a somber — yet clearly frustrated — locker room. “It hurts me, also. But the thing we have to remember is that this was a great year. We got to play in a state championship game; how many can say they got to do that? Think about the guy you went up against today; chances are he had a great game. On another night, I think we beat them. But tonight, we just came up short.”
Consider the numbers: Northfield (12-2) racked up 211 yards of total offense, compared to 165 for Mora (14-0). In the second half alone, Norhtfield had the ball inside Mustang territory a total of six times, including twice inside the 10, but somehow came away with only three points.
As a result, Mora made Travis Lagasse’s eight-yard touchdown run in the second quarter stand up against Northfield’s second half comeback bid. The 10 points were the fewest every scored in a Prep Bowl game.
With its third title game loss in four years — by a total of 14 points, all told — Northfield donned Class A bridesmaid garb once again.
Northfield’s domination of the second half seemed to only point toward a comeback victory. Christian White booted a 27-yard field goal that capped a 13-play drive and brought the Raiders to within four points with 9:49 left, and the several thousand on hand dressed in maroon and gold were on the edge of their seats, if not on their feet.
On its ensuing possession, Mora began to drive, advancing to near midfield. But on third-and-10, Raider senior Erick Fredrickson recorded Northfield’s fourth sack of the night, dropping Mustang quarterback Zach McBroom for a six-yard loss and forcing Mora to punt with just under six minutes remaining.
Northfield junior quarterback Jason Holm promptly directed a wishbone attack that, powered by alternating runs from running backs Jay Larsen and Matt Geiger, drove the ball to the Mora 26-yard line.
All seemed right for a game-winning drive — or ripe for disaster.
Disaster struck first in the form of Northfield’s first penalty of the day, a holding call that brought the ball back to the 40. On the next play, Geiger was stripped of the ball as he broke through the line. Nate Kirschner recovered for the Mustangs, who took over on their own 40 with 2:14 remaining.
But Northfield held yet again, stopping Mora cold on three consecutive plays, forcing the Mustangs to punt with 1:30 remaining.
On the punt, a sudden formation shift by the Mustangs drew a Northfield player offside, giving Mora a first down by penalty. With NHS out of timeouts, McBroom knelt three times to run out the clock.
“We’d seen them do that ‘sucker’-shift on punts in their films,” Sullivan said. “But that’s the way it goes.”
The victory over Northfield concluded an improbable run for the Mustangs, who were unranked in the state polls entering the tournament. Mora defeated second-ranked Albany, first-ranked and defending champion Detroit Lakes and finally the fourth-ranked Raiders to complete its Prep Bowl run. The closest Mora had come to a title was two runner-up finishes in 1976 and 1985.
“Northfield kept gaining momentum in the second half, but it seems like the closer they got, the more our defense tightened,” 18-year Mora coach Clark Bergloff said. “I think (Norhtfield) had a great game plan, but we did too. I give credit to our defensive coordinator for calling a great game.”
Northfield’s best change for a touchdown came on its opening drive of the third quarter. The Raiders marched 66 yards in 12 plays — including two fourth-down conversions — down to the Mora three-yard line. Facing another fourth-down situation, Northfield opted for a touchdown try. But Mustang linebacker Bill Methven intercepted Holm’s pass intended to Larsen one yard deep in the end zone and returned it 38 yards.
Another Raider drive, early in the first quarter, was halted when Geiger was stuffed for a two-yard loss by Methven on a fourth-and-one from the Mora 33.
“Not coming away with points when we had our chances really hurt us,” Sullivan said. “But their defense was so tough, we couldn’t afford a single mistake.”
Both teams spent the better part of the first two quarters trading punts. So it was fitting that Mora scored its touchdown after a particularly short NHS kick, a 29-yard punt that was returned to the Raider 32. Four plays later, on third-and-six from the eight, Lagasse took an option pitch from McBroom and eluded several defenders for the score, giving Mora the only points it would need with 2:47 remaining in the first half.
Sullivan did his best to take the stoic approach to the loss, but he admitted the dissapointment.
“It gets a little worse every time,” Sullivan said. “But we can’t let this one game ruin the way we feel about the season, after such a great year. It hurts more simply because we advanced so far.”Reach Sports Editor Michael Hughes at 645-1106 or follow him on Twitter @NFNewsSports. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.