Junior running back Keyser Wenthold (#1) escapes the grips of a Houston defender as he carries the ball for the Cougars. Also shown is Hunter Johnson (#35), a senior running back.  HEATHER KLEIBOER/NEWS-RECORD
Junior running back Keyser Wenthold (#1) escapes the grips of a Houston defender as he carries the ball for the Cougars. Also shown is Hunter Johnson (#35), a senior running back. HEATHER KLEIBOER/NEWS-RECORD
A late 72-yard touchdown run by Hunter Johnson and a defensive stand in the fading seconds helped Mabel-Canton to a 26-20 win over Houston in the conference opener for both teams.

The Cougars stuffed a fourth down play as Mac Nelson, Alex Mengis and Pierce Lind tackled Houston's scrambling quarterback Christian Sires at the five yard-line with 25 seconds left.

M-C was serving as host in the six-point decision, which was another frustratingly close game for the Hurricanes. For a second straight week, Houston did not score from close range at the end of the contest.

Hurricane coach Ryan Gatzlaff told KFIL radio that M-C scored a well-deserved win. Missed opportunities were particularly costly for his team, he added. "We were two plays from being 2-0 as opposed to 0-2," the coach noted.

Johnson (28 carries, 147 yards) scored as many points as did the Hurricanes, rushing for two touchdowns, catching a touchdown pass and kicking a pair of extra points.

While Sires was the heralded quarterback, Cougar Collin O'Bieglo (eight for 12) threw two touchdown passes to only one for his counterpart. Five different Cougars were on the receiving end including Nelson who had a leaping nine-yard reception. Noah Manning had a seven-yard shoe-top grab by for a first down at the Houston eight-yard line. Donnie Lind snagged four passes for 50 yards including a 12-yard touch down reception to cap a 64-yard drive as M-C moved ahead for the first time (7-6) in the final minute of the first quarter.

After M-C squandered a 54-yard drive with a fumble on the Houston six-yard-line, the kicking game would result in the next two scores - one for each team.

M-C cashed in after Johnson fell on Houston's muffed punt reception at the Hurricane 15 yard-line. O'Bieglo threw a four-yard TD pass to Johnson for a 13-6 lead late in the second quarter, but Dylan Lee returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to make it 13-12 at halftime.

After a scoreless third period, Johnson capped a 15-play, 61-yard drive with a six-yard TD run and conversion kick to make it 20-12. That was the greatest spread of the night, but it would last only five plays.

Houston had played from behind most of the game before pulling even. Sires broke several tackles on a 45-yard run down the sideline and then broke two more tackles on the successful extra-point run. That made it 20-20 with six minutes remaining. But the tie would last only 21 seconds.

On the Cougars' next play from scrimmage, Johnson would score on the second of his two successive TD carries with a 72-yard backbreaker. He stepped through the middle of the line and then cut to the sideline where he outraced several Hurricanes. M-C was ahead for good 26-20 with 5:44 on the clock.

Houston then drove 55 yards in 14 plays before M-C shut the door in the final moments.

Sires was the centerpiece of the Houston offense, completing 13 of 26 passes for 153 yards and rushing 18 times for 77 yards.

The celebrated senior moved the 'Canes 63 yards in only six plays in the game's opening possession, passing 25 yards to Mason Drake for a 6-0 lead.

Houston would not lead again as the next two scoring passes would come from O'Bieglo.

Each team averaged 4.6 yards per play. But converting 10 of 16 third downs (63 percent), the Cougars ran more plays, outgaining the 'Canes 307 yards to 252.

M-C coach Karl Urbaniak said his team took "a hard long look" at their play after losing to Spring Grove in the first (non-conference) game of the year. Making corrections, the Cougars worked very hard in practice, he added.

"Hopefully we can build on this for next week and weeks to come," Urbaniak said. "Our guys showed mental toughness against Houston."

Up next

M-C travels to Lanesboro on Friday, Sept. 13. The following week, the team will host Grand Meadow.

Cougar individual stats

RUSHING: Hunter Johnson 28-147, 2 TD; Keyser Wenthold 12-62; Noah Manning 9-29; Collin O'Bieglo 3-(-10); team knees 2-(-2).

PASSING: Collin O'Bieglo 8-12-0, 81 yards, 2TD; Keyser Wenthold 0-1-0.

RECEIVING: Donnie Lind 4-50, TD; Keyser Wenthold 1-11; Mac Nelson 1-9; Noah Manning 1-7; Hunter Johnson 1-4, TD

SEC Football

Grand Meadow 1-0 SEC, 2-0 season

Spring Grove 1-0, 2-0

Mabel-Canton 1-0, 1-1

Lyle/Pacelli 1-0, 1-1

Lanesboro 0-1, 1-1

LeRoy-Ostrander 0-1, 1-1

Houston 0-1, 0-2

Glenville-Emmons 0-1, 0-2


Mabel-Canton 26, Houston 20

Spring Grove 42, Lanesboro 14

Grand Meadow 64, LeRoy-Ostrander 16

Lyle/Paceli 54, Glenville-Emmons 34

THIS WEEK - Friday 7 p.m.

Mabel-Canton at Lanesboro

Spring Grove at Houston

Lyle/Pacelli at LeRoy-Ostrander

Grand Meadow at Glenville-Emmons