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Hill-Murray survived a second-half bull rush to defeat conference and section rival Mahtomedi 34-26 Friday night at Higgins Memorial Field at Hill-Murray High School.

The Pioneers had taken a 17-7 lead into halftime before the Zephyrs charged back with 13 unanswered points less than 2 minutes and 30 seconds into the third quarter to take the lead.

Hill-Murray’s star quarterback Zach LaValle made sure that wouldn’t hold up. The senior completed a play-action pass to Jack Cichy for a 7-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, which would give the Pioneers the lead again and hold up as the game-winning score.

“He made plays,” Hill-Murray coach Mark Mauer said. “Zach’s as good of a football player out there.”

The Pioneers defense came up with two big turnovers, including one in the red zone, to halt Mahtomedi’s scoring chances and preserve the lead.

The win moved Hill-Murray to 5-2 overall and into a third-place tie with Mahtomedi in the conference standings.

Hill-Murray scored first on a 9-yard touchdown run by Dusty Krueger. Mahtomedi answered with a play-action pass from Jordan Goodmanson to Brandon Goodwin. The Pioneers scored next on a 28-yard field goal by Brandon Lafeber to take a 10-7 lead.

Both teams ran into penalty trouble and were held quiet after that until Pioneers lineman Michael Flowers recovered a Zephyrs fumble with 26.8 seconds left in the half. It set up an all-or-nothing 34-yard “Hail Mary’’ pass, which was tipped by a Zephyrs’ defender before landing in Shane Finnegan’s hands for a Pioneers touchdown as time expired to end the first half. The score put Hill-Murray up 17-7.

“That was huge,” Mauer said. “Well, you’d think that was huge. But then they come back out and score 14 points on us.”

Goodmanson scored two rushing touchdowns within minutes of each other — one to start the half, and another shortly after a botched Pioneers kickoff return.

“The defining moment for this young team was that they overcame that,” Mauer said of the turnover. “A lot of teams could have very easily folded. We came back.” 

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