by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
A state tournament berth eluded the Zimmernan Thunder as they couldn’t stop a battle-hardened Annandale team Friday night.
The Thunder they gave up 201 yards passing and suffered four turnovers in a 21-7 loss to the Cardinals in the Section 6AAA title game at St. Cloud State.
“They have a great program over there, great athletes, excellent coaches, great fans,” said Annandale offensive coordinator Skip Dolan about Zimmerman, “but the fact is, they don’t play in the Wright County Conference. They don’t play a schedule like we do. We have tough games every week.”
John Kalthoff’s passing and a speedy defense lifted Annandale (6-5), which was seeded seventh while Zimmerman (9-2) was top seed.
The Cardinals looked like the No. 1 as they dominated the second half and scored twice in the fourth quarter to shatter a 7-7 tie.
“Our defense was amazing all game. you can’t turn the ball over in the playoffs and we were able to get four of them,” said Cardinal head coach Matt Walter. “We were able to pressure their QB and I don’t think they completed a pass in the second half. We were able to tackle their backs for losses, forcing them into long situations.”
Annandale has just a couple of two-way players so they were also fresher for the fourth quarter, he added.
Kalthoff hit 10 of 26 passes, with Dylan Nelson snagging five for 92 yards and one touchdown, as the Cardinals prevailed despite averaging just one yard per rush (42 yards in 40 carries).
They recovered three Thunder fumbles and intercepted one pass. Their defense held on three occasions when the Thunder reached the red zone and came away with no points.
Zimmerman coach Tom Kish said the Thunder needed to take care of the ball and at least slow down Annandale’s air game, and they faltered on both fronts.
“Against a team this good, you can’t have four turnovers,” said Kish. He added, “They threw the ball well. Their defense took away our edge … They were really quick, especially in the secondary.”
Kish felt a couple crucial calls didn’t go their way.
“We thought the last two fumbles could have been called down by contact,” he said. “But you have to hang unto the ball and not put yourselves in position to let the referees make that call.”
Those fumbles led to Anndandale drives of 45 and 40 yards culminating with fourth-quarter touchdowns – Cole Gauldin’s six-yard dive with 10:54 left and Kalthoff;s one-yard sneak for the clincher with 1:09 left.
The Thunder rushed for 179 yards, led by Jeff Mueller with 60 in 10 carries and quarterback Ethan Lunning with 56 in 12 carries.
Lunning had a tough time throwing the ball, completing five of 20 for 79 yards. He was 0-for-9 in the second half as the Cardinals took control.
The Thunder had a first-quarter drive stall on the 20 when Lunning fumbled a snap on 4th-and-one, and second-quarter drives fizzle at the 20 and 17 yard lines when they passed up field goals and Lunning couldn’t find a receiver on fourth down.
“The wind swirls on that end of the field,” said Kish, whose kicker, Alex MacGregor, has 40-yard range. “We wanted at least get to the 15 to kick.”
A zero-zero tie was broken when Kalthoff tossed a perfect over-the-top pass to Nelson for a 35-yard touchdown with 1:16 left in the half.
The Thunder responded with their best football of the night. After a short kick, Lunning drove them 62 yards in the final 1:10. His 13-yard TD pass to Cam Korlath was nullified by a hold, but he hit Jake Wilson for a 17-yard score with 11 seconds left.
Wilson, willowy 6-foot-4 junior who caught three for 48 yards, soared above two Cardinal DB’s to make the end-zone catch that tied the score 7-7.
But Zimmerman was blanked in the second half, limited to 48 net yards, all on the ground.
“For us the first half is always a feel-em-out period,” said Dolan. “In the second half, I think we wore them out.”
The best team in Zimmerman’s nine-year gridiron history will have to settle for the school’s first conference championship, and a section runner-up plaque.
“It’s been a great season,” said Kish. “It’s a credit to the seniors, who worked hard and led us all year and made this happen.”
Said Walter: “They are a well-coached team that plays their tails off. The entire Zimmerman community was awesome on Friday, which made for a great game.”
Annandale 21, Zimmerman 7
Anndandale ……….. 0 7 0 14 – 21
Zimmerman ………… 0 7 0 0 – 7
Ann – Dylan Nelson 35 pass from John Kalthoff (Zach Schlicht kick)
Zim – Jake Wilson 17 pass from Ethan Lunning (Alex MacGregor kick)
Ann – Cole Gauldin 6 run (Schlicht kick)
Ann – Kalthoff 1 run (Schlicht kick)
Rushing – Zimmerman 41-169, Annandale 42-41
Passing – Zimmerman 5-20-79-1, Annandale 10-26-201-1
Total yards – Zimmerman 231, Annandale 242
Penalties – Zimmerman 7-50, Annandale 2-30
Turnovers – Zimmerman 4 (3 fumbles, interception), Annandale 2 (fumble, interception)
Rushing – Nicholas Anderson 21-51, Gauldin 6-15, Kalthoff 11-(-16), Nelson 1-(-6), Bennet Erickson 1-2
Passing – Kalthoff 10-26-201-1
Receiving – Nelson 5-92, Brett Ahsenmacher 2-52, Gauldin 2-45, Joey Allison 1-10
Interception – Brett Fobbe
Fumble recoveries – Adam Rieger-Borer, Connor Froehlich, Todd Erickson
Sacks — Rieger-Borer
Punts – Kalthoff 3-31.0
Rushing – E. Lunning 12-56, Jeff Mueller 10-60, Caleb Lunning 6-20, Cam Korlath 4-10, Luke Schmit 2-13, Collin Ashley 6-13, Wilson 1-(-3)
Passing – E. Lunnng 5-20-79-1
Receiving – Wilson 3-48, Ashley 1-19, C. Lunning 1-12
Interception – C. Lunning
Fumble recoveries – Cory Jopp
Sacks – Mueller, E. Lunning, Schmit, Jake Antolak
Punts – Schmit 2-19.0