Princeton senior running back Austin Feero knew what was at stake when he heard the call in the huddle.
Princeton is playing Holy Family Catholic High School on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at the Metrodome. Ticket prices are $12 for adults and $8 for students and are on sale in the Princeton High School activities office . Fan buses will be provided for students. Cost for the bus per student is $5. Call Community Education for info at (389-4789).
Three plays earlier Detroit Lakes had taken a 31-28 lead over his Tigers in the fourth overtime period of the Class 4A quarterfinal game between Princeton and the Lakers. After a Princeton three-yard run on first down, Feero had come up two yards short of the end zone after a five-yard run on second down. The call from the bench had the ball going to Feero one more time.
“I knew we had to score to win,” Feero said.
Feero took the hand-off from quarterback Zack Ludwig and followed his offensive line. He hit a wall of defensive linemen.
“I had just one thought: I gotta keep on trucking and get in the end zone,” Feero said.
Moments later the fans in the stands caught a glimpse of Feero’s jersey on the other side of the goal line to cement a 34-31 Tiger victory.
The sea of black and orange erupted in cheers. Feero’s Tiger teammates, who were on the field, gathered in a celebratory cluster near the five-yard line. Those on the sideline charged onto the field.
The Princeton Tigers had just made school history, advancing to the state semifinals for the first time in a four-overtime game that just may go down in history as the best football game in Tiger history.
“It’s every kids’ dream to do that,” Feero later told reporters outside the Tiger locker room.
Dreams came true in the thick fog over St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium for an entire Tiger team, its coaching staff, and the Princeton fans who filled the stands with black and orange by the hundreds. They celebrated the school’s first state quarterfinal victory and its impending semifinal game at 4:30 p.m. Friday against the 9-3 Fire from Holy Family Catholic in Victoria.
But the boys took the long road to Minneapolis – a road that included four overtime periods and a handful of missed opportunities by both Princeton and Detroit Lakes.
Lakers kicker Christian Tigges missed a game-winning field goal with 1:07 remaining in regulation that would have sent Detroit Lakes to the Metrodome instead of the Tigers. Instead, the miss sent the teams into overtime. Tigges missed a field goal in the third overtime that also would have given the Lakers a win.
The Tigers weren’t without their opportunities, too.
Princeton had built a 21-7 lead over the Lakers on third- and fourth-quarter touchdowns from wide receiver Travis Chmielewski and quarterback Zack Ludwig, only to see the defense give up a pair of long receptions to set up a pair of Laker touchdowns that tied the game with about five minutes in regulation.
“Both teams kept the other in the game,” Princeton Head Coach Roy Hanenburg said.
Princeton and Detroit Lakes battled to a scoreless tie in the first quarter.
Then, on the first play of the second quarter, Lakers quarterback Michael Herzog handed the ball off to junior fullback Jarret Nosal, who broke through the Tiger defense for a 72-yard touchdown run.
Princeton executed a 13-play drive at the end of the first half that resulted in a two-yard touchdown run from Cole Warren that tied the game at 7-7 with 42 seconds on the clock.
The Tigers added some fireworks to their game plan midway through the third quarter.
Princeton lined up on the 27-yard line. Quarterback Ludwig hit Chmielewski on a short screen pass. Chmielewski broke free and darted down the right sideline towards the end zone with two defenders in hot pursuit – but to no avail. Ludwig and Chmielewski had connected for a 73-yard touchdown play.
It’s a catch that almost didn’t happen.
“It was called as a simple fade to me, but it was thrown inside,” Chmielewski said. “I had to stretch for that one.”
And after the catch?
“I really had to make a run for that TD,” he said.
Hanenburg said he knew Detroit Lakes was going to try and stop the run on the play.
“They had been playing Travis one-on-one, so we called the screen. It was a good play called by the coaches,” Hanenburg said.
The play did more than score a touchdown.
“They went 2-on-2 with Travis the rest of the game, so it tied up a defender and allowed us to do some other things,” Hanenburg said.
Five minutes later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Ludwig scored on a quarterback keeper on third and goal from the one-yard line to put the Tigers up 21-7.
The Tigers may have felt they had the game in the bag with a 14-point lead and just 11:55 left in the game. But if they did, they forgot to tell the Lakers.
The Lakers went into comeback mode. They turned their attention to the air and scored two touchdowns in the next six minutes to tie the game.
Detroit Lakes began its next drive at the Princeton 19-yard line. They opened with an 11-yard run and then went to the air on eight of their next nine plays, culminating with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Herzog to wide receiver Kirk McLeod on 4th-and-12.
Instead of punting, Detroit Lakes tried to beat the Tiger safety over the top, Hanenburg said.
“It was a good call by Detroit Lakes. We had thought we stopped them,” he said.
On Princeton’s next series, Ludwig threw an interception on a third-and-seven from the Tiger 12-yard line. The Lakers’ Stephen Erb returned the interception to the 10 to set up a Herzog two-yard touchdown run.
Herzog went 6-8 for 83 yards with both a touchdown pass and a rushing touchdown during the Laker rally.
“We put two guys on their quarterback most of the game, but he’s a big play maker,” Hanenburg said.
He found his game in the fourth quarter, the coach said.
With the score now tied 21-21, the Tigers not only let the Lakers back in the game, it looked as if they might hand them a victory.
On the Tigers’ next series Erb recovered a fumble on the Princeton 40.
Herzog completed a 17-yard pass on first down to move the ball to the 23. Four running plays later, the Lakers found themselves with the ball at the four-yard line.
On fourth-and-two, the Lakers brought in kicker Christian Tigges for a game-winning field goal. But the Lakers made a crucial mistake. On the previous play, they ran the ball to the right for no gain. But that resulted in the ball being placed on the right hash mark. Tigges lined up for the kick, but the ball sailed far left.
That forced the overtime period – or four of them as the case proved to be.
The Tigers won the toss and took the ball first. Starting at the 10-yard line, the Tigers rushed for three, two, and two yards to set up a fourth-and-three. The Laker defense stopped Princeton for no gain on fourth down.
The Tiger defense turned up the intensity on the Lakers’ drive. Princeton tackled a Laker runner for a loss on first down and gave up just a yard on second down.
Facing third-and-10, Nosal put a scare into the Princeton fans by taking the ball nine yards to the one-yard line. Herzog kept the ball on fourth and one but the Tiger defense responded with tackling the quarterback for a big loss to force a second overtime.
Laker quarterback Herzog ran the ball into the end zone on third-and-one to put Detroit Lakes up 28-21.
The Tigers responded with an incomplete pass into the right corner of the end zone, followed by a five-yard run by Josh Osborn. Ludwig then fired another incomplete pass on third and five. Now faced with a score-or-lose situation on fourth-and-five, Ludwig dropped back for the third time of the second overtime and found an open Billy McClay in the middle of the end zone for the tying touchdown.
Princeton went four-and-out in the third overtime. Detroit Lakes, on fourth-and-two, lined up for another winning field goal. This time Tigges sent the kick far right to give Princeton one more life by forcing a fourth overtime.
Detroit Lakes took the ball first, gaining a yard on first down. Princeton then stopped the Lakers for two consecutive three-yard losses to set up a fourth-and-12 situation. Once again the Lakers brought in kicker Tigges, who connected on a 31-yard field goal to put Detroit Lakes up 31-28.
This is where the experiences of this season came into play for the Tigers.
“There were times this year where we played with too much of an emotional high,” Ludwig said.
“We needed to keep an even keel,” he said.
As the Tigers met in the huddle along the sideline, Coach Hanenburg had a simple message, Austin Feero said.
“He told us to stay focused. He told us we could do this,” Feero said.
On first down the Tigers picked up three yards. On the next play Feero got the Tigers down to the two-yard line with a five-yard run.
The rest, they say, is history.
Feero took the ball into the end zone for the winning touchdown on the next play.
“It was an amazing game,” Hanenburg said.
“There were about four times that I thought we were done and heading home without a win,” he said.
It was a hard-fought game, Hanenburg said.
“In a playoff game, to go four overtimes, that’s just unheard of,” he said.
Whether the players were from Princeton or Detroit Lakes, the kids on either side of the ball never gave up.
“Our kids, they were saying that they were not done,” Hanenburg said.
“They played hard to the finish,” he said.
In a game that saw afternoon turn into evening and teams from Bemidji and Moorhead gathering on the sidelines to watch a state tournament game with a historic ending, it was the Tigers who earned the opportunity to play another day and keep their improbable turnaround from two 0-9 seasons alive for at least another week.
Princeton 0 7 7 7 0 7 0 6 – 34
Det. Lakes 0 7 0 14 0 7 0 3 – 31
DL: Jarret Nosal 72-yard run; Christian Tigges kick. 11:50, 2nd.
PR: Cole Warren 2-yard run; Korben Weidenborner kick. :42, 2nd.
PR Travis Chmielewski 73-yard pass from Zack Ludwig; Weidenborner kick. 4:43, 3rd.
PR: Ludwig 1-yard run; Weidenborner kick; 11:55, 4th.
DL: Kirk McLeod 39-yard pass from Michael Herzog; Tigges kick. 9:08, 4th.
DL: Herzog 2-yard run; Tigges kick. 5:44, 4th.
DL: Herzog 1-yard run; Tigges kick. 2nd overtime.
PR: Billy McClay 5-yard pass from Ludwig; Weidenborner kick. 2nd overtime.
DL: Tigges 31-yard field goal. 4th overtime.
PR: Austin Feero 2-yard run.
Rushing (att-yds) — DL: Jarret Nosal 10-104; Michael Herzog 31-59; Stephen Erb 4-(-4). Prnc: Josh Osborn 12-45; Cole Warren 12-31; Chase Lindenfelser 7-16; Austin Feero 3-10; Bill McClay 1-6; Cameron Paulson 1-1; Sam Archer 1-(-4); Zack Ludwig 5-(-10).
Passing (att-comp-inc-int-yds-td) — DL: Herzog 21-9-12-0-147-1. Prnc: Ludwig 31-11-7-3-183-1; McClay 1-0-1-0-0-0.
Receiving (rec-yds-td) — DL: Kirk McLeod 5-119-1; Sam Champa 2-3-0; Erb 1-15-0; Derek Long 1-10-0. Prnc: Travis Chmielewski 5-126-1; McClay 5-47-1.