Hill-Murray seized a big moment in the waning seconds of the first quarter on Friday night and surged away from Faribault, winning 45-21 in a Class 4A state quarterfinal at East Ridge High School in Woodbury.
Already down 14-0, Faribault called timeout facing fourth-and-goal on Hill-Murray’s 5-yard line.
The discussion: Try for a field goal or go for a touchdown. The Falcons, making their first state appearance, chose the latter.
The decision backfired.
Senior running back Mat Becker fumbled, and Pioneers junior defensive back Ryan Black scooped it up and raced down the right sideline 95 yards for a touchdown.
“Everything went right in the first half for us,” Hill-Murray coach Brooks Bollinger said. “It was a total team effort. Defense played well, and as far as offense, that was certainly the best first half we’ve played.”
The Pioneers scored touchdowns on their first four offensive possessions.
The momentum of a 21-0 first-quarter lead carried on. Less than three minutes into the second quarter, quarterback Zach LaValle hit fellow junior Michael Alada for a 40-yard touchdown, the pair’s second scoring connection of the half.
Alada had more than 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the first half.
Then, after the Pioneers defense forced a three-and-out, sophomore running back Dusty Krueger carried twice for 61 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown burst off left tackle.
Down 35-0, Faribault finally scored with 32 seconds left in the half. Junior receiver Connor Wierschem slipped behind the defense for a 37-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Jake Salaba.
That slight defensive lapse was perhaps the Pioneers’ lone blemish in the first half.