By PATRICK SLACK
Unfortunately for Crosby-Ironton, it couldn’t take the computers with them on the field.
Having been selected as the top seed out of four 7-1 teams in Section 6AA based on the new Quality Results Formula (QRF) computer rankings, Crosby-Ironton entered the semifinals against visiting Upsala-Swanville Area (USA) as the theoretical favorites, Saturday.
A few minutes in, the fourth-seeded Patriots exhibited why that assumption would be wrong.
USA swarmed toward Crosby-Ironton players when on defense.
The Patriots sprinted away from them while on offense.
By the time the Rangers had picked up a first down, USA had built a 19-0 advantage on its way to a 45-14 rout and a spot in the Section 6AA finals.
“Our kids were absolutely prepared mentally and physically,” USA head coach Jay Loven said. “They knew what Crosby was going to do and stepped up to the challenge.”
Facing a third-and-long situation on its opening drive, Crosby-Ironton dropped back to pass.
USA junior Mitch Lange broke past the line, knocked the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and recovered it in stride, taking it 25 yards to the end zone to put the Patriots ahead 7-0.
After another defensive stop, the Patriots converted their first offensive possession into touchdown, picking up a first down on fourth-and-1 from the four on a quarterback sneak by senior Eric Frieler, followed by a 2-yard rush up the middle by Lange.
Frieler snuck into the end zone on another keeper with a minute left in the first, giving USA a 19-0 edge heading into the second quarter.
The Patriots looked as if they would get the ball back after another defensive stop early in the second, but a Rangers’ defender wrestled the ball away on a punt from a USA returner appeared to be down.
However, Crosby-Ironton was given the ball, then took advantage with a 25-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-7 to pull within 19-8 with 7:58 remaining in the half.
Any thoughts of the Rangers being able to use that as a springboard to getting back in the game were quickly erased however, with USA sandwiching a pair of Lange touchdown runs around the half, followed by a 3-yard touchdown rush by senior Austin Mollner to push the Patriots’ lead to 38-8 midway through the third quarter.
Crosby-Ironton narrowed the deficit to 38-14 on a punt return later in the third, but couldn’t score again.
Lange put the finishing touch on the win with a 33-yard touchdown scamper with six minutes to play in the fourth.
Lange led the Patriots’ offense with 164 rushing yards on 25 carries, with Mollner adding 64 yards on 12 attempts.
Frieler completed 5-of-9 passes for 76 yards, with Mollner making a 37-yard reception and senior Garrett Wolf catching two passes for 25 yards.
Lange was also the top tackler for USA with 10 solo stops and three assists, with senior Alec Griffith recording seven solo tackles and four assists.
Senior Brock Cichon, freshman Dunkin Westrich and Lange recovered fumbles and senior Austin Jorgensen contributed a sack.
“We didn’t put a whole lot of stock in the seeds,” Loven said. “When everyone’s 8-1, we figured we had as good a chance as anybody.”
“We knew we could play with them but I don’t know if anyone really expected the difference in score,” Loven said. “It was probably the best game we’ve played all year.”
USA will now take on second-seed Holdingford for the Section 6AA championship and a spot in the state tournament at the Fargodome, Friday at 3 p.m.
Holdingford advanced by defeating third-seeded Pierz 42-21.
The Patriots and Huskers met in the first round of last year’s playoffs, with Holdingford winning 28-0.
“Obviously it’s in the back of everybody’s mind,” Loven said. “We feel we’re a little bit different team this year. They’re a year older too. I see us as very similar teams, a little smaller, but very athletic.”
USA 45, Crosby-Ironton 14
USA 19 6 13 7 – 45
Crosby-Ironton 0 8 6 0 – 14
USA: Mitch Lange 25 fumble recovery (Brock Cichon kick), 10:33.
USA: Lange 2 run (pass failed), 6:13.
USA: Eric Frieler 1 run (pass failed), 1:04.
CI: Baker 25 pass from Leonhardt (Tesdahl pass from Leonhardt), 7:58.
USA: Lange 2 run (kick failed), 2:02.
USA: Lange 10 run (kick failed), 8:50.
USA: Austin Mollner 3 run (Cichon kick), 5:29.
CI: Woods 65 punt return (pass failed), 1:07.
USA: Lange 33 run (Cichon kick), 6:13.
USA—Rushing: Mitch Lange, 25-164; Austin Mollner, 12-64; Eric Frieler, 8-21; Brock Cichon, 3-13; Tren Dinius, 2-13. Passing: Frieler, 5-9, 76. Receiving: Mollner, 1-37; Garrett Wolf, 2-25; Cichon, 1-8; Dinius, 1-6. Defense: Lange, 10 solo tackles, 3 assists, sack, fumble recovery; Alec Griffith, 7 solo tackles, 4 assists; Cichon, 3 solo tackles, 1 assist, sack, fumble recovery; Mollner, 3 solo tackles, 1 assist, sack; Avery Smieja, 3 solo tackles, 1 assist; Dinius, 3 solo tackles; Colten Kruzel, 3 solo tackles; Cory Wensmann, 3 solo tackles; Austin Jorgenson, 2 solo tackles, 1 assist, sack; Dunkin Westrich, fumble recovery.