Section 5AAA Champion Annandale advances
By: Jackson Boline
The Annandale Cardinals remain perfect after a 14-7 win over Esko in the Class AAA State Tournament Quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon.
The Cardinals had a very similar season to Esko, playing teams they had beaten handily, but the one difference between these two teams, at least on paper, was a certain safety.
Koi Perich is a four-star safety who’s committed to the University of Minnesota to become a Golden Gopher.
Pregame of this state tournament game, there was a plane in the sky with a flag reading “Row The Boat,”, which is believed to have been sent by Gophers head coach PJ Fleck showing support in Perich’s state game.
“We game-planned around him (Koi Perich) a little bit, but we didn’t want them to start using him as a decoy on us,” said Annandale head coach Matt Walter.
After an opening kickoff return to the opposite 32-yard line by Cardinals Isaiah Turner, Annandale looked like they had a great opportunity to cash in first, but after turning the ball over on downs, it was Eskio’s turn to march down the field.
The Eskimos took their opening possession in for six as Jacion Owens found Sam Haugen for the first score of the game; 7-0 Esko.
On the next possession after the kickoff, the Cardinals threw an interception, caught by Eskamos’ Joey Antonutti. Esko, who had six shutouts, and only scored less than 50 three times this season looked like they were in the driver’s seat yet again.
The Eskimos led 7-0 after the first quarter but learned they would be without star safety Koi Perich after an Oblique injury in the first half.
Annandale needed a big play to get momentum back on their side, and they got what the doctor ordered. The Eskamos’ offense marched down the field, all the way inside the 10-yard line, giving them a chance to get a two-score lead, but the Cardinals’ defense came up big. Annandale was able to get a massive interception in the endzone, running it out to their five-yard line. On the next play, Annandale’s QB found Brandon Cooper for a massive 40-yard run and catch to get them into the enemy’s territory.
The Cardinals were able to cash in on the gift from Esko, getting them back deadlocked at seven to end the half.
“Our defense is unbelievable, I told them if we win the turnover battle we will be in good shape,” said Walter.
The Cardinals were feeling like they were in a good position heading back for the third quarter, locked up at seven against a team that has put up 50 or more points on the scoreboard in nearly every game.
Both teams’ defenses continued to be grueling for the opponents’ offense, ending the third quarter still tied at seven apiece.
It was Annandale football at the Esko 15 starting the fourth quarter when the Cardinals were able to push in for the go-ahead touchdown with over 11 minutes to be played.
The Cardinal defense stood strong yet again, forcing a turnover on downs inside their own 30 with just over five minutes left in the game, and wearing the clock out to seal the 14-7 win over Esko.
“We could’ve probably been more aggressive, but why, we just went out there and played to win and not to lose, we played smart, great football,” said Walter.
The Cardinals had a good mix of run and pass, excelling more on passing, as Nick Walter made big throws when they needed him to, but the story of the game was the defense, especially the defensive line and linebackers.
“We wanted the QB to keep the ball up the middle, we had great tackling up front and from our linebackers, we wanted to blitz up the middle, we were able to do that and we’re going to the bank baby.”
The Cardinals will head down to Minneapolis to face the winner of Minneapolis North Community or Dassel-Cokato inside U.S. Bank Stadium at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18.