Lions handle Houston 28-6, head back to state tournament

ABOVE: Alex Folz makes a leaping, left-handed interception in the end zone of a pass intended for Houston's Mikkel Schutte. Also defending for the Lions is Chandler Bergrud. BELOW: Tyler Kersten looks for running room on the edge as Spring Grove surges to a second straight section championship and state-tournament berth. Photos by Cheryl Patterson
By : 
S. Lee Epps

A goal line stand, followed by a 99-yard touchdown drive, turned a potential tie score into a two-touchdown lead that propelled No. 1 seed Spring Grove to a 28-6 win over No. 2 seed Houston in the Section One nine-man football championship game at Rochester on Friday, Nov. 2.

The 22-point decision was a rematch of a 21-point win (35-14) against the Hurricanes late in the regular season. It was the Lions' 12th straight victory over Houston, 24th consecutive win over the past two seasons, 100th career win for head coach Zach Hauser, eighth straight appearance in the section championship game and the second straight section title and trip to state for the defending state champions.

All-purpose quarterback Alex Folz averaged 12 yards per carry while rushing for 252 yards and all four Lion touchdowns on runs covering 10, 2, 68 and 51 yards. It was his fifth time in 10 games to surpass 250 yards. He also completed 12 of 19 passes for 118 yards and kicked four extra points. 

"The game went how Houston needed it go, wanted it to go" coach Zach Hauser told KFIL Radio. "They really limited the amount of time we had the ball, and they made some long drives, kept the ball on the ground, burned up a lot of clock and got a lot of first downs.

'"It's a tough task; they're really big and physical. They've got some guys who can really run the ball."

Averaging more than 10 possessions per game, Spring Grove had the ball only seven times, the fewest in 14 seasons. The 13 total possessions for both teams were the fewest in the 16 seasons for which statistics exist.

It did not start well for the Lions with a second-down interception halting the first SG possession. 

The 'Canes then used 14 plays to go 60 yards with quarterback James Hongerholt carrying the final 12 yards for a 6-0 lead. SG trailed for only the second time all season.

The only Houston lead of the night lasted only four plays. Folz bolted 36 yards, passed 19 yards to Noah Elton and then scored on a 10-yard run.

Takoda Boyd had stopped Houston's two-point conversion run, so Folz's extra-point kick put SG ahead 7-6.

But Houston was quickly back in business. KFIL Houston Player of the Game Ben Walters ran the kickoff back 42 yards into Lion territory, and the Hurricanes took only two plays to earn a first down at the SG 10 yard-line.

But defensive plays in critical situations would by big keys to victory for Spring Grove. A tackle for loss by Calvin Sylling and a third down leaping, one-handed interception in the end zone by Folz would the first of two times that the 'Canes would be denied deep in Lion territory. Later Folz was named KFIL SG Player of the Game, and Sylling received the radio Game Ball Award.

The Grove guys would next prove they could also sustain a drive - and also cross the goal line. A 12-play possession featured Folz completing five straight passes, including a 20-yard toss to Boyd down to the Houston 11. Folz scored on a fourth down, two-yard run, and the Lions led 14-6.

The 'Canes came right back until self-destructing with a fumbled snap on fourth down at the Lion 43.

Hoping to land a knockout blow, Folz and Elton came up with a 20-yard pass and run down to the Houston 24. But SG had to battle the clock as well as the Hurricanes, and with a minute to play before halftime, lost the ball on downs after four consecutive incomplete passes.

The turning point

The eventual outcome was greatly determined in the third quarter with both teams snapping the ball near the Lion goal line. It began with Houston's 19-play, 64-yard march.

"The changing point in the game," said Hauser, "was when they had a 10-minute drive to start the third quarter down by one score. They had us on our heels all the way back to the one yard-line. 

"We took a gamble; we basically sent all nine guys right to the middle of the field. If any other play would have been called rather than something right up the middle, they would have walked untouched into the end zone. But you've got to take a gamble in that situation, and it paid off for us."

The Hurricanes failed to get in with two snaps inside the one yard-line. Sylling and Folz halted Hongerholt on third down before Kai Bjerke and Ethan Matzke met Jaytin Millen on fourth down.

The 'Canes would still have excellent field position if they could force a punt out of the end zone. That appeared eminent on third down and seven with Folz taking a deep snap behind the goal line. It was arguably the most critical pass play of the game when Folz connected with Elton for 13 yards for a first down.

The Lions did not have to punt out of their end zone and launched a 99-yard drive to take a two-touchdown lead early in the fourth quarter.

It took only seven plays with Folz breaking a 68-yard touchdown run to make it 21-6 on the scoreboard.

Four plays later, Elton and Folz tackled Hongerholt one yard short on a fourth down run near midfield.

One play later, Folz was sprinting again - this time for 51 yards - as Spring Grove took complete command 28-6 with 8:37 to play.

Despite Folz completing a commendable 12 of 19 passes, several in crucial situations, the 118 aerial yards was a season low and the first game this year that SG did not have a touchdown pass.

Hauser said the Hurricanes defended differently than they had in the first matchup versus SG.

"They took the pass away on the edge for us; that opened some running lanes for Alex, and the offensive line did a great job sealing their blocks and opening up enough creases for Alex to make some plays.

"Then in the second half, he was finally able to break a couple of long ones. If you give him enough touches, that's going to happen. We're pleased with how the offensive line played; when Alex had a chance, he made some big plays."

Two Houston quarterbacks combined to attempt only five passes with two completions and two interceptions. The 'Canes were moving the ball again late in the game - to the Lion 26 - when Boyd snuffed out the threat with an interception at the 2 yard-line.

Two plays later, the Lions again escaped the shadow of the goal posts with Tyler Kersten racing 20 yards and allowing SG to run out the clock.

While the Hurricanes were able to control the clock and earn first downs, they were able to break very few big plays. A 29-yard run and a late 27-yard pass were the only two plays covering more than 12 yards. 

Meanwhile, the Lions broke six plays for at least 20 yards and outgained Houston by 184 yards (411 to 227).

While Folz, the leading rusher in the sub-district, averaged 12 yards per carry, the Lion defense limited Millen, the second leading rusher in the sub-district, to 5.3 yards per handoff (85 yards, 16 carries).

There were no punts by either team, and just as they had in the Homecoming win against the same team, the Lions came up with two interceptions and three critical fourth down stops. 

Sylling had a career-high 15 tackles (8 solo) while Boyd and Folz were each in on 11 stops and Matzke 10.

State-ranked No. 7 Houston ends the season at 9-2 with both losses coming against the undefeated, top-ranked Lions (10-0). 

The Hurricanes won the state title in 2008 on their second straight trip to state. Spring Grove, the current defending state champion, is in the state tournament for the second straight season and fourth time overall.


SG 28, Houston 6

Hou--6--0--0---0  = 6

SG---7--7--0--14 = 28



YARDAGE (rush+pass)

   SG 411(293+118)

  Hou 227 (196+31)

RUSHING: att.-yards (avg.)

  SG 31-293 (9.4), 4TD

  Hou 51-196 (3.8), TD

PASSES: comp-att-int, yds. 

  SG 12-19-1, 118 yds.

  Hou 2-5-2, 31 yds.

SACKS allowed: SG 0, Hou 0

TD: SG 4 rush, Hou 1 rush

PAT:  SG 4-4 (kick 4-4), Hou 0-12 (0-1 rush) 

TOTAL PLAYS: SG 50, Hou 56

YARDS/PLAY: SG 8.2, Hou 4.1

FUMBLES - LOST: SG 1-0, Hou 2-0 


PENALTIES: SG 4-30, Hou 1-15

3rd downs: SG 5-8, Hou 4-11

4th downs: SG 1-2, Hou 3-6

Red zone: SG 2-2, Hou 1-3

First downs: SG 20, Hou 14

PLAYS/20+YARDS: SG 6, Hou 2



RUSHING: Alex Folz 21-252, 4TD; Tyler Kersten 8-45; Chandler Bergrud 2 (-4)

PASSING: Folz 12-19-1, 118 yds.

RECEIVING: Noah Elton 7-70; Caden Grinde 3-22; Takoda Boyd 1-20; Ethan Matzke 1-6

XP KICKING:  Alex Folz 4-4



SACKS: none

TACKLES for LOSS: Calvin Sylling 1

TACKLES (solo+assists): Calvin Sylling 15 (8+7), Takoda Boyd 11 (5+6), Alex Folz 11 (5+6), Ethan Matzke 10 (4+6), Kyle Hagen 8 (3+5), Chandler Bergrud 7 (4+3), Kai Bjerke 6 (3+3), Noah Elton 5 (0+5), Wyatt Murphy 4 (1+3), Tyler Kersten 3 (3+0)




VARSITY FOOTBALL*East Sub-district games

10-0 (7-0 sub-district) 

W at Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran 56-12

W vs. *Lyle/Pacelli 62-16

W *at Mabel-Canton 54-12

W vs. *Randolph 46-28

W*at Lanesboro 49-16

W vs.*Houston (Homecoming) 35-14

W*at Grand Meadow 35-6

W vs. *LeRoy-Ostrander 63-38


forfeit from Lyle/Pacelli

W vs. Mabel-Canton 42-14

W vs. Houston 28-6




at Randolph, cancelled

W vs. Grand Meadow 22-6

W at Mabel-Canton 30-0 (game called by lightning in second quarter)

W vs. Houston 28-0

W at LeRoy-Ostrander 38-12


Spring Grove/Mabel-Canton Junior High football 


W vs. Houston 39-0

W at LeRoy-Ostrander5 32-20

W vs. Lyle/Pacelli 20-19

L at Lanesboro 12-40

L vs. Randolph 7-13