Lakeville South wins in another wild finish

Fake punt provides winning points against Apple Valley

Having already gone to a little-known rule to turn one potential defeat into victory, Lakeville South’s football team had to show its resourcefulness again, just one week later.

This time the Cougars were trailing Apple Valley by five points midway through the fourth quarter and facing a punting situation. Except punting was about the last thing they wanted to do because South already had two punts blocked, and they led to 14 Apple Valley points.

So, the Cougars called in Rambo – no, not Sylvester Stallone’s heavily muscled character from the film series. Their version of Rambo is a gadget play, one of a half-dozen fake punts South coach Larry Thompson says the team has in its repertoire.

Apple Valley charged, hungry for another punt block. South punter Tyler Lattery leaped, pretending that the ball was snapped over his head. But it actually went to the up man, A.J. Westrude, who raced 54 yards untouched for the winning score in Lakeville South’s 29-26 victory last Friday.

“It was wide open,” Westrude said. “We didn’t want to risk having another punt blocked. The coaches called for Rambo, and it worked perfectly.”

The previous week, South took advantage of a rule that allows free kicks after punts that are fair caught to nail a 49-yard field goal from kickoff formation in a 20-17 victory over Eagan.

The Cougars probably would prefer not to reach this deep into their bag of tricks this early, but they’re 3-1. “We found a way to get it done,” Thompson said. “Right now we’re probably an average football team, but I like some of the things we’re doing and I think we will get better.”

Apple Valley, which went into 2013 with ambitions of contending for the Class 5A state championship, dropped to 0-4 despite playing probably its best game of the season. In addition to blocking two punts, the Eagles intercepted two passes and had five minutes more possession time than South. Lakeville South had 191 yards rushing, but more than half of that came on two plays – Mark Ruhl’s 64-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and Westrude’s run on the fake punt, which counted as a rushing attempt.

“Except for one play, we couldn’t run the ball,” Thompson said.

Lakeville South linebacker Josh Corcoran stuffed an Apple Valley running play on fourth and one at the Eagles’ 49-yard line in the first quarter. That led to the Cougars’ first score, a 22-yard pass from Brenon Larson-Gulsvig to Grant Mosser, who had missed South’s previous two games because of a knee injury.

In the second quarter Apple Valley’s Jackson Graham broke through the line to block a punt, and Zach Robole made the recovery at the South 19. Da’Shawn Lewis scored on a 5-yard run five plays later.

Apple Valley appeared to hold off a South bid to take back the lead when Jacob Borman intercepted a pass and returned it to the Lakeville South 42 in the final minute of the first half. But on the Eagles’ next play, South nose tackle Alonte Alexander sacked Apple Valley quarterback Tommy Singer and stripped the ball. Westrude picked it up and ran 52 yards for a score and a 14-7 Lakeville South lead.

In addition to his two touchdowns, Westrude, a senior linebacker, forced and recovered an Apple Valley fumble in the first quarter.

Apple Valley returned the second-half kickoff to Lakeville South’s 20, setting up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Singer to Brooks Helling. But the Eagles missed the conversion, which later would prove critical. Less than two minutes later Apple Valley blocked another South punt, with Kieran McKeag picking up the loose ball near the goal line and stepping into the end zone.

Ruhl’s touchdown run put South back in front temporarily, but Apple Valley scored on a nine-play, 65-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Two facemask penalties against South helped the Eagles advance the ball, and Matt Morse scored on a 6-yard run. Apple Valley tried for a two-point conversion and failed, leaving its lead at 26-21 with 7 minutes, 14 seconds remaining.

Apple Valley had one more chance after the fake punt for a touchdown, but lost the ball on downs at the Lakeville South 38 with 1:52 remaining.

Lewis had 25 carries for 107 yards for the Eagles. Singer completed 11 of 16 passes for 96 yards, while Morse had five catches for 44 yards.

“They were 0-3, so they could play loose and try some stuff,” Westrude said. “That’s what made it tough for us.”

The Cougars likely weren’t anxious to rehash their play against Apple Valley when they gathered to study the game film, but “the main goal was to win,” Westrude said. “We got the job done, and that’s all that matters.”

Apple Valley resumes its search for its first victory when it plays host to Bloomington Kennedy, also 0-4, at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27.

Lakeville South, which won three in a row at home after a season-opening loss at Lakeville North, goes back on the road to play Burnsville on Sept. 27.