ROSEVILLE - Stopping the state's most prolific rusher is no simple task, but did not seem impossible for Nicollet.
Underwood's Noah Thompson, who had rushed for more than 2,100 yards leading into Friday night's 9-Man state quarterfinal game, ultimately proved he could not be stopped by Nicollet in its 34-21 season-ending loss one game shy of the state semifinals.
"We knew it was going to be a battle going in," said Nicollet coach Tom Murphy. "We had to play perfect - and I wouldn't say we played perfect, we played well."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Nicollet's Matt Christenson hurdles Noah Thompson of Underwood during the opening round of the Nine-man State Tournament Friday at Roseville Area High School.
Underwood (9-3) jumped out to a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter behind 128 of Thompson's 291 total rushing yards and his only touchdown of the game.
"It was kind of a challenge," said Nicollet senior Matt Christenson of stopping Thompson. "They got more people through the hole than we could block at some times, that's when they got out and ran it. You could kind of see why he was the leading rusher in the state."
Nicollet (11-1) struck back in the second quarter with an 84-yard touchdown pass from Dalton Elliott to Kenny Fischer, which woke up the crowd to cut Underwood's lead to 14-6 despite Matt Fischer's PAT attempt that bounced off the right upright of the goal post.
"It was a 'Cyclone 4' - everyone was going deep," Fischer said. "I was running down the sideline, I knew from the moment their corner was up way too much [that] all my quarterback had to do was lay the perfect ball and he did."
On the Raiders' next drive, Elliott went 4-for-4 in orchestrating an 80-yard touchdown drive that ended with a scramble from him 10 yards out. A successful 2-point conversion knotted the game at 14-14 going into halftime.
The second quarter was big for the Raiders' confidence defensively as they figured out how to stop Thompson from breaking off double-digit gains down field. During the second quarter, Thompson never broke for a run longer than 10 yards and even fumbled the ball in the red zone, which led up to the Raiders' 84-yard touchdown connection from Elliott to Fischer.
"We changed the alignment a little bit - moved some tackles around," Christenson said. "Then we brought linebackers into the hole before their linemen can get out and block in space, so that way it clogs the hole and that way the running back can't get out and find a hole and get up into space."
Nicollet tied the game at 21-21 with an anxious 5-yard touchdown run by Elliott on fourth-and-3 from 5 yards out late in the third quarter. That drive came immediately after Underwood regained the lead from a 2-yard touchdown run by fullback Matt Biegler to start the second half.
Biegler scored two more rough-skinned touchdowns in the fourth quarter - rushing for 70 total yards to accompany his three scores in the game - to put the contest out of reach for Nicollet.
Nicollet had opportunities to keep itself in the ballgame, but Elliott threw two interceptions - both to Max Kollar - on the first play of two separate drives to seal its fate.
Overall, Elliott finished 19-of-36 passing for 243 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed for 64 yards on 13 carries for two touchdowns.
Even though Nicollet had its first loss one game short of playing in the Metrodome, Murphy still sees this season as a success.
"We had three seniors, we had a ton of juniors and sophomores that played for us this year that never had much playing experience coming into this season," Murphy said. "Outside of a couple of big kids, we're not very big. We're young and with that said, we have holes to fill for next year."
Nic. 0 14 7 0 - 21
Und. 14 0 7 13 - 34
U - N. Thompson 22-yard TD run (Hauge PAT good), 4:10
U - Creek to Hauge 7-yard TD pass (Hauge PAT good), 0:22
N - Elliott to K. Fischer 84-yard TD pass (M. Fischer PAT no good), 6:34
N - Elliott 10-yard TD run (2-pt. conv. Elliott to Christenson good), 1:59
U - Biegler 2-yard TD run (Hauge PAT good), 9:39
N - Elliott 5-yard TD run (M. Fischer PAT good), 4:51
U - Biegler 7-yard TD run (Hauge PAT good), 11:08
U - Biegler 5-yard TD run (Hauge PAT no good), 2:29