Caleb Happel takes on Grand Meadow tacklers as he carries around block from Matt Schleich. Approaching is Harrison Speltz (#85).
Caleb Happel takes on Grand Meadow tacklers as he carries around block from Matt Schleich. Approaching is Harrison Speltz (#85).
The Spring Grove Lions suffered their first conference football setback in 21 games at Grand Meadow last Friday, coming up on the short end of a 12-7 margin.

SG arrived with the No. 5 state ranking in AP 9-man polls, while the Superlarks had dropped out of the top 10 (from no. 3) following a loss to Lanesboro last week. Friday's game left both teams in a three-way tie with the Burros at the top of the SEC, each sporting a 6-1 season record, 5-1 in conference play.

The game turned into a defensive slug-fest even though the Lions came in averaging 51 points per game and the Larks averaging 50. In fact, the 19-point total was the lowest of any SEC game since Lyle/Pacelli defeated LeRoy-Ostrander 6-2 in 2009.

Field position certainly favored the hosts. Every SG possession and 7 of 11 GM possessions began on the Lion side of midfield, but Spring Grove defenders turned away the Larks time after time.

SG took over on downs three times - at the Lion 8, 26, and 19 yard lines. Spring Grove also recovered GM fumbles at the Lion 5 and 22 yard lines. In addition SG intercepted 2 GM passes, including one after the Superlarks had reached the Lion 12 yard line.

By contrast, the SG offense crossed the 50-yard line only three times while converting only 2 of 13 third downs.

After a scoreless first period, GM finally cashed in on a 9-play, 47-yard drive with quarterback Trenton Bleifus carrying the final 3 yards on fourth down.

After covering the ensuing onside kickoff, SG scored in two plays needing only 14 seconds. Keenan Siminski passed long to Dustin Vickerman for 52 yards to the GM one yard-line, then Caleb Happel plunged the final yard, and Matt Schleich kicked the extra point to put SG up 7-6 with 6:12 left before halftime. Unfortunately for the visitors, that pass was the only SG play that went for more than 18 yards.

The winning drive for the Larks began in the GM end of the field, a 67-yard march capped with a 16-yard TD scramble by Bleifus two plays into the fourth quarter.

The Lions had waited too late to invade Superlark land a second time. They came up empty after driving 56 yards to the GM 25 before the first half ended with a second-down sack.

In the second half, the Lions managed only one first down in their first three possessions before driving 47 yards in 9 plays down to the GM 29. A go-ahead score looked possible, but on third and 8 with 3:49 to play, a reverse pass was intercepted at the goal line by Blake Olson who returned it to the Lark 20.

The Lions would not get the ball back until Olson punted them back to the SG 20 (via touchback) with only 1:45 left on the clock. After an 11-yard pass, a 10-yard SG penalty and 3 incompletions, GM took over on downs at the Lion 25 with 35 seconds left and ran out the clock.

Siminski completed 8 of 13 passes to five different receivers for 112 yards. Vickerman caught 4 for 78 yards. Rushing against the Larks was tough. With 20 yards of sacks, SG averaged only 2.7 yards per rush with the longest run going for 17 yards.

Landon Jacobson took 23 hand-offs for GM for 103 yards. Adding in kick returns, pass receptions and interceptions, he amassed 230 all-purpose yards. Wes Ojulu caught 4 passes for 91 yards.

But the KFIL-Radio GM Player of the Game was Bleifus, who was a play-maker on both offense and defense. The senior ran for 65 yards and passed for 151 (8 for 23) and had numerous tackles including a sack.

Often under tremendous pressure from a strong SG pass rush, Bleifus was too quick and elusive to be sacked. In addition to scrambling for the winning TD, he was able three times to get off a pass while in the grasp of relentless Lion defensive end Brady Schuttemeier.

Starting back Michael Stejskal was lost to injury after his first carry. Christopher Bain missed the game with an injury.

Happel was the KFIL Lion Player of the game and was a force on both sides of the ball with a team-high and career-best 19 tackles including the only tackle for loss. He finished with 113 hard-earned yards on 30 carries.

Career-highs went to Vickerman with 18 tackles, Nick Holty with 10 and Cody with 8. Matt Schleich was in on 9 stops and averaged 33 yards on five punts.

The Lion B-team finished undefeated (4-0) using long passes in a come-from-behind 20-8 home win against Grand Meadow.

The Spring Grove/Mabel-Canton/North Winn junior high boys finished at 7-1 after 50 points in the second half was not enough to overcome a 30-0 deficit in last week's 54-50 home loss to the Superlarks. Those young Lions had defeated GM 34-20 earlier in the season.

Up Next:

Spring Grove hosts a rematch with Mabel-Canton on Wednesday, Oct.16 with a conference championship on the line. The Section 1 (9-man) tournament begins on Tuesday, October 22 with the Lions expected to host with one of the top three seeds.

The highest seeds will also host the Oct. 26 semi-finals while the State High School League for the first time requires the section championship game (Nov. 1) to be played on artificial turf.

Lion Individuals

RUSHING 43-116 (2.7 avg.): Caleb Happel 30-113, TD; Matt Schleich 6-16; Dustin Vickerman 2-5; Harrison Speltz 1-2; Keenan Siminski 4-(-20).

PASSING: Keenan Siminski 8-13-1; Dustin Vickerman 0-1-1; team spike 0-1-0.

RECEIVING: Dustin Vickerman 4-78; Alex Engelhardt 1-18; Matt Schleich 1-11; Caleb Happel 1-5; Brady Schuttemeier 1-0.

TACKLES: total (solo+assist). Caleb Happel 19 (4+15); Dustin Vickerman 18 (6+12); Nick Holty 10 (2+8); Matt Schleich 9 (2+7); Damon Cody 8 (5+3); Brady Schuttemeier 7 (2+5); Alex Engelhardt 6 (1+5); Harrison Speltz 2 (1+1); Larry Schulte 2 (0+2); Keenan Siminski 2 (0+2); Mikal Guberud 1 (1+0)

SEC Standings

Spring Grove 5-1 SEC (6-1 season)

Lanesboro 5-1 (6-1)

Grand Meadow 5-1 (6-1)

Mabel-Canton 4-2 (4-3)

Houston 3-3 (3-4)

LeRoy-Ostrander 1-5 (2-5)

Lyle/Pacelli 1-5 (1-6)

Glenville-Emmons 0-6 (0-7)



LAST WEEK

Grand Meadow 12, Spring Grove 7

Lanesboro 56, LeRoy-Ostrander 26

Mabel-Canton 60, Glenville-Emmons 18

Houston 70, Lyle/Pacelli 18



THIS WEEK (Oct. 16)

Mabel-Canton at Spring Grove

Houston at Lanesboro

Grand Meadow at Lyle/Pacelli

LeRoy-Ostrander at Glenville-Emmons



STATE 9-MAN POLL (before last week's games)

1 Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 6-0

2 Kittson County Central 6-0

3 tie Mountain Lake Area 6-0

3 tie Edgerton/Ellsworth 6-0

5 Spring Grove 6-0

6 Win-E-Mac 6-0

7 Nicollet 6-0

8 Ely 6-0

9 Floodwood 6-0