Cougar quarterback Collin O’Bieglo goes to the air against Spring Grove. JON SPELTZ/NEWS-RECORD
Cougar quarterback Collin O’Bieglo goes to the air against Spring Grove. JON SPELTZ/NEWS-RECORD
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Mabel-Canton out-rushed state-ranked Spring Grove by 101 yards and challenged the conference co-champions until the final minute and half on Wednesday, but fell short 41-28. The Lions usually depend on a punishing ground game, but needed their best passing game in five years to avoid an upset by a determined group of Cougars.

Mabel-Canton's (M-C) improvement over their last Spring Grove showdown was striking. In the teams' first-week meeting, the mercy-rule running clock went into effect during a 52-6 Lion win. In the rematch, M-C closed to within 5 points and appeared to have the momentum before SG escaped with a big pass completion.

Both the 425 yards of total offense and 28 points M-C posted were the most the Lion defense has allowed all year. It was also the first time an opponent had scored on its first possession against a stingy Spring Grove defense. Spring Grove barely topped M-C with 444 yards of total offense.

On the third play of the game, Cougar Hunter Johnson bolted untouched 55 yards to the end zone. On their next possession after Spring Grove had tied it up (7-7), the Cougars moved 37 yards with Johnson breaking free for another 31 yards. But the Spring Grove defense stiffened and held on downs at the Lion 23.

Spring Grove then utilized a 51-yard run by Caleb Happel, driving 77 yards to go ahead 13-7. The third Cougar possession ended with an interception by Happel at the M-C 36. Five plays later on the first play of the second quarter, Alex Engelhardt (taking Happel's place at running back) scored from the five, and Spring Grove led 19-7. After an M-C three-and-out, Spring Grove clicked again on possession number four when Keenan Siminski hit Dustin Vickerman with a 65-yard touchdown bomb. Engelhardt ran in the PAT (points after touchdown) and the Lions led 27-7.

SG appeared to be well on the way to another lopsided win, but M-C failed to get the message. Collin O'Bieglo (four for 13, 71 yards) passed 35 yards to Johnson and 11 yards to Lind during a 73-yard drive. Johnson scored from the 10, and the Cougars were back within 14 points at halftime (27-13). Late in the third period, Cougar fans had something to cheer about when Johnson broke free for 63 yards and the end zone, 27-21.

The M-C defense then forced a third punt in a row and the Cougars had the ball at Lion 43 with a chance to regain the lead. But the Spring Grove defense rose up to hold on fourth down at the Lion 35.

Siminski then found Vickerman 19 yards downfield. Three plays later, the junior wide receiver out-leaped an M-C defender for a dazzling 33-yard pass reception at the Cougar 7. Engelhardt scored his second touchdown from the one, and Spring Grove had a two-touchdown lead again (33-21).

The margin lasted for 21 seconds. On the next play from scrimmage, Keyser Wenthold raced 76 yards and M-C was within five points with 6:18 to play (33-28).

Spring Grove appeared to choke with two quick penalties. But just as their share of the championship was in danger of slipping away with third-and-22 at the Spring Grove 27, Siminski and Engelhardt teamed up for the third big Spring Grove pass play. In Engelhardt's only reception, the sophomore tight end caught a pass 18 yards downfield while breaking a tackle, struggled to stay on his feet and then raced another 32 yards before finally being overtaken by Donnie Lind at the Cougar 13. Two plays later, Siminski scored on a nine-yard quarterback sneak. With Engelhardt's two-point conversion run, the Lions again had more-than-a-touchdown lead (41-28) with only 3:10 to play.

Mabel-Canton came right back with an O'Bieglo 17-yard pass to Noah Manning to the 50. On third-and-10 at the Lion 35, he completed another short pass over the middle. But while Matt Schleich was making the tackle, Gabe Solum stripped the ball away. Siminski recovered at the Lion 24 with 1:34 to play. It was the only Cougar fumble of the game.

Schleich finished with a team-high, career-best 14 tackles.

Spring Grove (7-1, 6-1 SEC) clinched a tie for a fourth straight conference championship. M-C finished the regular season at 4-4, 4-3 SEC.

Johnson was the KFIL-Radio Cougar Player of the Game, averaging over eight yards per carry on the way to a 236-yard, three-touchdown night (28 carries). He came in having rushed for over 1,000 yards this season. The senior running back/linebacker also caught one pass for 35 yards, averaged over 20 yards on four kick-off returns, put all four of his extra-point kicks through the uprights, averaged 31.5 yards on four punts, averaged nearly 43 yards while kicking off and made many tackles.

Teammate Wenthold averaged over 13 yards per run to finish with 94 yards and one touchdown.

Happel surpassed 1,000 yards for the season, rushing for 100 yards on only 10 carries, but missed the last three quarters with a knee injury. He limped off after scoring Spring Grove's first touchdown on a three-yard run, then came back to score the Lions' second touchdown on a two-yard run. But the team's season-leading rusher and second-leading tackler would watch the rest of the game from the sideline.

M-C was without the services of injured lineman/linebacker Weston Whalen.

Engelhardt, moving from tight end into the backfield when Happel left, rushed 20 times for 72 hard-earned yards including two touchdowns and two successful extra-point runs.

Siminski completed seven of 10 passes (one dropped, one TD, no interceptions) for a career-high 191 yards. The first-year starter was the KFIL-Radio Lion Player of the Game.

Receiving the KFIL Game Ball Award was Vickerman with a career-high five passes for a career-best 131 yards including one grab after winning a tug-of-war on the run with an M-C defender. The junior safety also had a career-best 13 tackles and also returned punts and kickoffs. On his only carry, Vickerman ran 23 yards to the Cougar 10 to set up the Lions' first touchdown.

The two teams could meet for a third time in the Oct. 26 Saturday section semi-finals if they won their quarterfinal games on Tuesday of this week. Number four-seeded M-C hosted number five seeded Houston while top-seed Spring Grove was home against number eight seeded and winless Glenville-Emmons.

The Cougars defeated Houston, 26-20, back in week two of the regular season.

In the other two quarterfinals, number two seed Lanesboro was at home versus number seven Lyle/Pacelli while number three Grand Meadow hosted number six LeRoy-Ostrander.

The winners of Saturday's semi-finals will meet in the section championship game on Friday, Nov. 1, on artificial turf at a neutral site to be determined.

Cougar Individuals

RUSHING (43-354): Hunter Johnson 28-236, 3 TD; Keyser Wenthold 7-94, TD; Noah Manning 6-31; Collin O'Bieglo 2-(-7). PASSING: Collin O'Bieglo 4-13-1, 71 yds. RECEIVING: Hunter Johnson 1-35; Donnie Lind 2-19; Noah Manning 1-17

Southeast Conference 2013

FOOTBALL conf. season

End regular season W L W L

Spring Grove* 6 - 1 7 - 1

Lanesboro* 6 - 1 7 - 1

Grand Meadow* 6 - 1 7 - 1

Mabel-Canton 4 - 3 4 - 4

Houston 3 - 4 3 - 5

LeRoy-Ostrander 2 - 5 3 - 5

Lyle/Pacelli 1 - 6 1 - 7

Glenville-Emmons0 - 7 0 - 8

* champions