The Bulldogs turned the ball over four times, had two extra points and a punt blocked and still managed to hold off Denison-Schleswig 20-14 Friday at Jim Lorenzen Field.
The win locked up the second playoff berth out of Class 3A District 1 for Le Mars behind first-place Sioux City Heelan and qualified the Bulldogs for the postseason for the ninth time in 11 years.
Le Mars had to be on top of its game defensively against the Denisonâ€™s 6-foot-4, 270-pound sophomore quarterback Brandon Scherif. The Bulldogs limited Scherif to 12-of-35 passing for 129 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, as well as -3 yards on 12 carries.
â€śHe can throw a bullet, but we saw on film that he can be kind of erratic,â€ť Fitzgerald said. â€śHe started the game off on target and their second drive, they moved it down the field throwing slants and some other stuff. The kids did a really good job after that, totally shut down the running game and made them one-dimensional.â€ť
Denison blocked the extra point attempt, however, and took the lead at 7-6 five minutes later as Scherif completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kerry Fineran.
Special teams were an adventure all night for the Bulldogs with both extra point kicks failing to get off the ground. The Monarchs also blocked one punt completely and tipped another, putting the defense in difficult situations throughout the game.
â€śOur kids are still trying to get it corrected. Weâ€™ve made adjustments each day. Sometimes itâ€™s just not good enough.â€ť
It didnâ€™t appear as if the missed extra points would be a problem early as the Bulldogs moved the ball at will against the Denison defense.
After the Monarchsâ€™ first score, Levi Price returned the ensuing kickoff to the Bulldog 36-yard line and - on the first play from scrimmage - Hasselquist completed a 52-yard pass to Koth down to Denisonâ€™s 12-yard line.
The Bulldogs hit a bump in the road one play later, though, as running back Tim Newman went down with an ankle injury. Le Mars stumbled on the series after Newman left and turned the ball over on downs at Denisonâ€™s 20.
â€śWe had a setback right away - we lost Tim Newman with an ankle sprain - and it took away a lot of our offense,â€ť coach Jim Boyd said. â€śWe had to shelve some of it, rely on Adam in the passing game more.â€ť
The defense held and Le Mars had one more offensive series in the first quarter, but Price fumbled with 32 seconds on the clock at Denisonâ€™s 44 and the Bulldogs headed into the second quarter trailing 7-6.
Le Mars righted the ship offensively early in the second as Hasselquist found tight end Pat Rosacker on a 10-yard touchdown pass at the 9:07 mark. The Bulldogs made up for the first extra-point miss as well, making good on a two-point conversion pass to Travis Westhoff to take a 14-7 lead.
It was Rosackerâ€™s second straight game with a touchdown catch and he finished the night with 2 catches for 35 yards. His emergence as a receiver has helped balance Le Marsâ€™ passing attack with teams keying on Kyle Koth, Boyd said.
â€śPat was a fullback for us and we knew he was a very talented person,â€ť Boyd said. â€śI needed a tight end and we were trying to find a big body. We thought he could block for us, but heâ€™s turned into a great receiver for us.â€ť
The Monarchs bounced back from Rosackerâ€™s touchdown catch late in the second quarter as Colin Straight intercepted Hasselquist at the Le Mars 44. The Monarchs had 2:22 to punch in the tying score, but went nowhere on the possession as Le Marsâ€™ defense sacked Scherif on three consecutive plays, pushing Denison back to the 50 and preserving the 14-7 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs then jumped ahead 20-14 two minutes into the third quarter as Hasselquist hit Koth on a 55-yard touchdown pass.
Le Mars had an opportunity late in the third to press the advantage inside the Monarchâ€™s 20, but Hasselquist was intercepted in the end zone by Denisonâ€™s Cody Van Ness.
After the touchback, the Bulldogs again had a chance to stretch the lead as Tyler Bohlke intercepted Scherif and ran the pick back for a touchdown. The play was called back on pass interference, however, and the Monarchs escaped into the fourth quarter down just 20-7.
Chris Bergquist nearly intercepted Scherif early in the fourth, but couldnâ€™t come up with the catch. Ryan Baue picked his teammate up just two plays later with a sack and a fumble recovery, setting the Le Mars offense up at mid field.
The Bulldogs were unable to move the ball after the turnover and Kothâ€™s ensuing punt was partially blocked, giving Denison the ball at its own 37. The defense came through again to bail out the special teams as Hasselquist intercepted Scherif three minutes later, giving the Bulldogs the ball at their own 28.
Unable to move the ball again, Le Mars was forced to punt and this time Denison got all of the punt attempt, recovering the block at the Bulldog 4-yard line with 5:00 to play. The defense stopped Denison on four straight plays, however, and the Bulldogs took over on downs.
Le Mars finally lost the field position battle after playing most of the fourth in its side of the field as Hasselquist was picked at the Le Mars 32 on the ensuing possession. Scherif then completed a touchdown pass to Alex Tech with 1:36 on the clock, closing the gap to 20-14.
Denison attempted an on-side kick and - after a few tense moments as the ball bounced around the field - Price came up with the recovery. The Bulldogs were able to pick up a first down on the possession off the kick and ran out the clock to preserve the win and clinch a postseason berth.
After an 0-3 start, the Bulldogs are grateful to be in the playoffs, Boyd said. But the coach knows that four turnovers and several of the other miscues from Friday wonâ€™t fly once the postseason rolls around.
â€śYou canâ€™t make mistakes against good teams, like in the playoffs,â€ť Boyd said. â€śThe concern I have is that Adam and the receivers are quite talented and they think they can squeeze that ball into these tight areas. Give credit to Denison because they made some nice plays on it, but we have to be a little bit more controlled with our passing attack.â€ť
Hasselquist had not thrown an interception since the Week 5 win over Spencer, but had three Friday. He finished the night 9-of-16 for 222 yards, three touchdowns and three picks.
Koth was the featured attraction on offense with 7 catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns. The run game added 128 yards, led by Price with 15 carries for 93. Fullback Nate Fischer also carried 7 times for 34 yards. Le Mars had 350 yards of total offense on the night, compared to 129 for Denison.
The pass has become an increasingly big part of Le Marsâ€™ offensive game plan and - with the injury to Newman - could prove an even bigger part in the final week of the regular season at Spirit Lake.
â€śIt depends on what they give you. If youâ€™re going to give us a cover-3 look and play it soft, weâ€™re just going to pick you apart with our passing game,â€ť Boyd said. â€śIf you stay back and try to defend the pass, weâ€™re going to run it at you. Weâ€™re not putting all the marbles on one side of the offense.â€ť
On the defensive side, Rosacker led Le Mars with 11 tackles, Bohlke added 9 and Baue had 7, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Ben Beitelspacher also had 7 tackles and 1/2 sack, Derrick Kolar had 6 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks, Nick Plueger had 6 tackles and Bergquist 5. Travis Hansen and Jaime Koopman added a sack each and Hasselquist had an interception.
The Bulldogs (5-3, 5-1) will finish out the regular season Friday on the road against Spirit Lake. The Indians are not a dangerous opponent on paper, but will be bringing everything in their arsenal to try and knock Le Mars off its current five-game win streak.
â€śThey have nothing to lose and if they can pull an upset, it makes their season for this year and it also gets them a good start for next year,â€ť Boyd said. â€śWe have to be ready for anything.â€ť