BACK ON TOP

Prep Bowl

Class AAAA

Hutchinson 14, Rocori 6

 

Hutchinson wins defensive battle to claim 4A title

by Malik Mitchell

Hutchinson is back on top.

After winning the Class AAAA title in 2021, the Tigers found themselves on the losing end in last year’s Prep Bowl 34-24 to Simley. But after a hard-fought 14-6 win Friday night against 2019 champion Rocori, Hutchinson finds themselves back on top in AAAA and avenging a loss earlier in the year where the Spartans shut them out 11-0.

“Three straight state title games, got beat last year, and this year went through that brutal game,” said Hutchinson Head Coach Andy Rostberg.

Winning a state title is never not a challenge, but this one was especially difficult thanks to a Rocori defense that was coming off a semifinal shutout of Byron and at one point had five straight shutouts during the season.

Two key runs sparked the Tiger’s offense late in the first quarter, a 13-yard rush from junior Nathan Thode and a 19-yard gain from senior Carter Verhasselt to land them on Rocori’s 33-yard line. Transitioning to the second quarter, Rocori held Hutchinson to a 4th and 6 and managed to get an interception off a tipped pass that landed in the hands of senior Nathan Soldner.

But they, too, would suffer a setback after a missed pitch that was recovered by Hutchinson senior Charlie Renner, putting them in good field position at Rocori’s 25-yard line. However, Rocori’s defense stayed stout and stopped the Tigers on a 4th and 2.

“It was a defensive battle,” said senior defensive end Dwight Kiffmeyer. “We were hoping to get the offense and stay strong on defense.”

With the lack of production on offense, Rocori struggled to rack up any yardage in four drives, totaling only 48 offensive yards in the first half. Hutchinson got the ball back and finally was able to move the ball deep into enemy territory when Logan Butler completed a short pass to Renner for 17 yards that landed them on the goal line. Renner would complete the drive after pounding his way inside to score the first points of the game with two minutes left to play in the first half.

Rocori shot out of the tunnel like a cannon in the second half, however, with a 67-yard passing touchdown on the second play of the drive. Will Steil found Caleb Maddox wide open down the right side line as he trotted in for an easy score. The Spartans tied the contest 6-6 after a failed two-point conversion.

Rocori’s Grant Tylutki returns a punt for Rocori who battled for field position all night against a tough Hutchinson defense. PHOTO BY JACKSON BOLINE

The Tigers came back with a poised offense. Butler kept a good tempo with short passes and several rushing attempts. However, Rocori came up with a huge turnover after Kiffmeyer trailed and sacked Butler with under five minutes left to play.

But Hutchinson came up with a turnover of their own as junior Manny Pearce came up with a big interception on their 34-yard line.

The Tigers, struggling offensively to get something going in the second half, finally strung together some first downs and after a 15-play drive, scored the go-ahead touchdown when Renner barreled in from three yards out with just over five minutes to play. The drive ate up more than eight minutes on the clock. Nathan Thode ran in for the two-point conversion and a 14-6 lead.

“It was tough sledding in there running the ball, but we made enough throws and plays to be successful,” Rostberg said.

A key moment occurred on a 4th and 3 when Rocori was whistled for an offside penalty that led to Renner scoring from the goal line.

But Rocori still had plenty of time to mount a drive of their own. They started at their own 30 and Steil, a Mr. Football candidate, ran for a first down and threw for two more as the Spartans drove down to the Hutchinson 28. But a Steil pass was tipped and intercepted by Thode.

Hutchinson was able to get two first downs and make Rocori burn all three timeouts before Tigers QB Logan Butler took a knee to run out the clock and give Hutchinson their second title in three years and their fourth since 2012.

Despite the struggle to mount offensive momentum, the Tigers finished with 200 yards rushing led by Thode with 88 yards on 28 carries. Carter Verhasselt had 75 yards on 16 carries, and Renner had 12 carries for 44 yards and two touchdowns.

Butler was 6-for-10 passing for 65 yards. He was sacked twice.

Hutchinson’s defense held Rocori runners to just 53 yards on 19 carries. Steil was 8-for-12 passing for 128 yards, including the long 67-yard score to Maddox. Andy Pedroza had three catches and Andrew Soldner had two.

It was tough for Rocori to get anything going offensively as they had the ball for just 13:54 compared to Hutchinson’s 34:06.

Rocori finished their season 10-3. Hutchinson finished 11-2.

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