For some high school football teams, it might have looked like a mountain to climb.
Litchfield chose the air route instead.
Down by seven with 1:35 to play, Litchfield relied on its dynamic passing game to march down the field in just over a minute to claim a 29-28 win over Dassel-Cokato Friday in an East Central South District football game.
‘That was an emotional game,” Litchfield coach Jim Jackman said. “Back and forth. I applaud the kids, their efforts. The first half, maybe we didn’t have some things go our way. But they continued to battle.”
Ben Alsleben, who finished with 314 yards on 21-for-35 passing, hit junior Tyson Michels with a 24-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds to play, then threw to Logan Graphenteen for the two-point conversion to secure the win.
With the quick-strike capability the Dragons have demonstrated in the passing game this season, Jackman said he was confident the offense had a game-winning drive it after Dassel-Cokato scored to take a 28-21 lead with 1:35 left.
“We knew we had two timeouts and offensively we felt we had the kids that could make the plays,” Jackman said. “We threw the ball well tonight, I felt, and the kids made plays.”
Michels, who caught five passes for 78 yards, also felt that confidence as the Dragons took the field.
“We just had the mentality we had to go out and score again,” Michels said. “The defense had our back all game, forcing turnovers. We just figured we needed to score and repay the favor.”
The Dragons moved quickly down the field, aided by a couple of long pass plays, but the drive appeared to stall when they moved inside the 30. It was fourth down and game on the line when Alsleben found Michels at about the 12-yard line. Rather than head out of bounds to stop the clock and give his team a first down, Michels cut the play back inside, split two defenders and raced to the end zone for the score.
“I knew he was going to expect me to go to the sidelines,” Michels said of his defender, “so I knew he would go there, and I just cut up the field. I figured it would be open. And it was.”
The play was big, but it only closed the gap to one point, leaving Jackman the decision of kicking for an attempt to tie the game or going for two points. Turns out, there really was no decision to be made.
Jackman made his mind up midway through the fourth quarter, when the Dragons, who had been trailing 20-13, scored on a 2-yard run by Alsleben to draw within a point.
“With six minutes left, I just said, ‘Guys we’re going to go for two,’” Jackman said. “And then when we got the ball back (with under two minutes to play), I said we were going for two. There was no question about that.”
Alsleben connected with Drew Kotzer on the two-point conversion the first time, then with Graphenteen to seal the win.
It was a passing kind of night for Litchfield, with four receivers catching four or more passes, led by Bennett Lecher, who had seven receptions for 78 yards. Kotzer had five caches for 69 yards, and Graphenteen added four catches for 89 yards.
Along with the big plays offensively, the Dragons posted a solid defensive effort, forcing three turnovers, including a game-sealing interception by Bret Wendlandt. In addition, Wyatt Larson and Bryce Penk each recovered a fumble.
Penk led the team with 16 tackles, followed by Patrick Benson with 14, Graphenteen with 13 and Mason St. Pierre with 12.
“Defensively, I felt we played well the second half,” Jackman said. “Just a couple of blips there that we gave up a couple plays.
“We’ve talked a lot about, we’ve got to find a way to make some turnovers, and we did that tonight, which we hadn’t done all year,” Jackman added. “Getting that interception, that was a great way to end the game.”
Litchfield, 3-3, faces Albany at 7 p.m. Friday at home.
Litchfield 13 0 0 16 — 29
D-C 7 13 0 8 — 28
L – Sergio Martinez 5 run (Martinez kick)
DC – Eli Gilman 51 run (Sanders Asplin kick)
L – Drew Kotzer 8 pass from Ben Alsleben (kick failed)
DC – Josh DeBoer 5 run (Asplin kick)
DC – DeBoer 1 run (kick failed)
L – Alsleben 2 run (Kotzer pass from Alsleben)
DC – Asplin 13 run (Gilman pass from Asplin)
L – Tyson Michels 24 pass from Alsleben (Logan Graphenteen pass from Alsleben)
First downs: 20. Penalties: 8-97. Rushing: Martinez 9-32, Bennett Lecher 4-27, Alsleben 15-20, Kotzer 2-17, Total 31-96. Passing (individual and team): Alsleben 21-35-314-1. Total 21-36-314-1. Receiving (individual and team): Lecher 7-78, Michels 5-78, Graphenteen 4-89, Kotzer 5-69. Interceptions: Bret Wendlandt. Fumble recoveries: Wyatt Larson 1, Bryce Penk 1. Tackles: Penk 16, Patrick Benson 14, Graphenteen 13, Mason St. Pierre 12. Sacks: Maison Olson 1, Dom Dietel 1.
First downs: 16. Penalties: 0-0 … Rushing (Individual and team): Gilman 14-90, Jacob Niemela 12-91. Passing (jndividual and team): Asplin 4-5-86-1. Receiving: N/A. Interceptions: Jacob Gnerer.