Nothing Free in Luverne

Published 1:15 am Saturday, November 8, 2008

LUVERNE – Special teams’ play and the legs of No. 12 helped the Luverne Tigers take down the Pike County Bulldogs 33-14 Friday in the first round of the AHSAA Class 3A playoffs.

In a game that seemed to be unfolding as a shootout, a Bulldog mishap on a kickoff return gave Luverne (8-3) an edge they never relinquished.

Already down 20-14, Pike County (5-5) fumbled the return at the 29-yard line, and left the Bulldogs’ defense with their heels on the red zone.

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Primed for another score, Luverne quarterback Chad Free took a quarterback draw in from 18 yards out to push the score to 26-14 just before the half.

“The kickoff return was a backbreaker,” PCHS head coach Brad Waggoner said. “You’ve got to give Luverne credit. They made plays when they had to.”

Special teams play had already cost the Bulldogs earlier in the game.

Luverne’s Ryan McGhee picked up a kickoff and returned it 75 yards for a score in the first quarter, putting the Tigers up 14-7.

Free also played a large role in the Tigers’ victory Friday.

Free rushed for 198 of Luverne’s 238 total offensive yards to lead all rushers.

“We knew coming in that Free would be their key,” Waggoner said. “He is a strong runner and did a good job tonight.”

The Bulldogs did not score in the second half. Josh Parker connected with Tevin Andrews for a six-yard score in the first quarter and a Parker snuck into the end zone in the second.

Luverne completely shut down the Bulldog rushing attack, as the Bulldogs amassed a total of two rushing yards on 15 carries.

“We kept getting backed up and forced ourselves into throwing situations,” Waggoner said. “A lot of pressure is put on you when you’re in those situations, but I think we had guys that made some plays.”

Parker finished the game 13-of-26 for 117 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

The Bulldogs were operating through the air and their defense shut down the air attack of the Tigers. The Pike County defense held Luverne to three total passing yards.

“Our kids battled,” Waggoner said. “It’s tough to lose, but I’m proud of the way they played together.”

The Bulldogs held Luverne scoreless in the second half until a turnover on downs left the Tigers with the ball at the Bulldogs’ 1-yard line.

“At Pike County, we’re never satisfied with losing in the first round,” Waggoner said.

“We’ll start working Monday to get ready for next year.”