By Daniel Kerwin
Journal Sports Writer
SPRINGFIELD - In the first quarter of Friday's Southern Minnesota Conference football game between Springfield and Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, it seemed that the only way either team was going to be able to advance the ball forward was by punting it.
A 34-yard touchdown run by Springfield senior Zach Mickelson on the third play of the second quarter broke that pattern.
After Mickelson's touchdown, the Tigers continued to shore up their lead to earn a 28-8 victory in their Homecoming game, returning to the win column after suffering their first loss of the season a week ago against Wabasso.
"It was a good win for the team coming off a big loss there," Mickelson said. "Homecoming week as a senior, it really helps out to get a big win at home in front of your home fans and everybody else."
Mickelson's touchdown run was only the second play by either team of more than 10 yards. Lance Briard kicked the extra point to put the home side ahead 7-0.
"Everybody got their blocks down and down assignments, and I found the hole and just took off," Mickelson said.
The Springfield defense - which allowed only one first down by the Mustangs in the first half - forced a three-and-out on BLHS's next possession, with Christopher Kretsch returning Mason Clark's punt 25 yards to put the Tigers 36 yards away from another score.
Springfield quarterback Jacob Menage capped an eight-play drive with a 13-yard touchdown scamper, with Briard's extra point kick extending the lead to 14-0.
"I thought we got off the ball really well, a lot better than a week ago, and played with intensity in the first half," Springfield head coach Paul Dunn said. "I think that was important. We played excited defense and we were real physical, and I think those were the keys in the game."
Despite allowing two-straight touchdown drives, the Mustangs' defense recovered by stifling the Tigers on a first-and-goal try from the BLHS nine-yard line near the end of the second quarter to keep the score at 14-0 entering halftime.
"We were fortunate to get the stop at the goal line right as the first half ended, which should have built the momentum, but we weren't able to carry that over to the second half," BLHS head coach Brandon Neseth said.
The Tigers got off on the right foot in the second half, scoring on their first play from scrimmage.
Kretsch took the opening kickoff to the BLHS 49-yard line, from which Menage ran almost untouched for a 49-yard touchdown (Briard extra point good) to give Springfield a 21-0 cushion just 18 seconds into the half.
Menage connected with Cole Milbrath for a 17-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter (Briard extra point good) to round out Springfield's scoring in the contest.
The Mustangs heated up in the fourth quarter - earning 96 of their 206 total yards of offense - but were only able to put a single touchdown on the board.
After a 44-yard pass from Clark to Ryan Coulter set up first-and-goal for BLHS from the Springfield two-yard line, Clark rushed for a one-yard touchdown on fourth down, cutting the score to 28-6 with 8:30 remaining. Clark completed a pass to Coulter for the two-point conversion to make the score 28-8.
BLHS's final attempt to narrow the deficit ended when Clark came up short on a fourth-and-two try at Springfield's 19-yard line with 3:51 remaining.
"I think overall, we didn't quit," Neseth said. "We've kind of done it all year, we haven't quit. We almost came back in the end and put a couple more touchdowns on the board, and that's just something we continue to preach. We just need to get better in that first half so we're not in that position in the second half continually."
Clark led the Mustangs in passing (9-for-18 for 158 yards) and also in rushing (16 carries for 26 yards). Coulter hauled in six catches for 82 yards and Kyle Kubesh reeled in two passes late in the game for a combined 54 yards.
Menage finished 5-for-8 passing for the Tigers and also ran for 59 yards on eight carries. Mickelson accumulated 74 yards on nine carries.
Clark led the BLHS defense with 21 tackles, with Chris Schmidt adding 16 tackles and a sack. Springfield was led on defense by Trever Vanderwerf with 12 assisted tackles, three solo tackles and a batted ball.
BLHS (1-4) will play on the road against Red Rock Central on Friday.
Springfield (4-1) will host Sleepy Eye on Friday.