South St. Paul's Sam Sura ran in for the two-point conversion that tied the game with St. Thomas Academy late in the fourth quarter. Star Tribune photo by Kyndell Harkness.
South St. Paul's Reid Bjorklund and Sam Doody recovered a key onside kick during the second half of Friday's section final game against St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights. Star Tribune photo by Kyndell Harkness.
The 7 miles that separate South St. Paul and St. Thomas Academy are lined with heartache for the Packers. These two Classic Suburban foes had met nine times since 2005. And nine times the Cadets had proved superior.
But Friday night South St. Paul reversed its luck and advanced to the state tournament with a 32-31 overtime victory in Mendota Heights.
Down by two scores in the final quarter, South St. Paul quarterback Harrison Rund found the end zone to cut the St. Thomas lead to just eight points. After a successful onside kick, South St. Paul’s Sam Sura, who missed much of the second quarter because of a high ankle sprain, punched in a score and two-point conversion with 49 seconds to play.
“Sam is Sam,” head coach Chad Sexauer said of Sura, who totaled 178 yards on the night. “He just kind of continues to grind away and do the things he does.”
St. Thomas had two timeouts to play with once it got the ball back, and marched down the field with ease. But ace kicker Wyatt Schmidt’s 35-yard field goal attempt was blocked, sending the game to overtime.
Following a St. Thomas touchdown and extra point, South St. Paul scored on the first play of its overtime possession. Against a backdrop of seven seasons of lopsided losses, Sura dived in on the two-point conversion to give the Packers the victory.
“They have a great offense,” Sexauer said in defense of his decision to go for two. “We had some momentum, and I trust our guys. And I wanted to go home.”
A good deal of the credit for St. Thomas’ commanding first-half lead falls on South St. Paul’s shoulders. Twice the Packers botched fourth-down snaps to give the Cadets a short field, twice they tossed costly interceptions, and twice they failed to convert red-zone possessions into points.
But the Packers crawled back into the game and methodically erased the first-half deficit. They face Mankato West next week.