Cardinals knocked off by Nicollet

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 17, 2002

LEROY -- The game Nicollet had been waiting two years for went the way of the Raiders in Wednesday's 21-14 upset victory over top-ranked LeRoy-Ostrander.

Nicollet was left out of a share of the Southern Confederacy Conference crown in 2001, but the sixth-rated Raiders kept it all to themselves this year after shocking the 9-man polls with an inspired effort on LeRoy-Ostrander's home field in the final week of the regular season.

Nicollet quarterback Tony Hulke threw for 200 yards and three first-half touchdowns and the Raiders' defense kept the high-powered Cardinals off the scoreboard in the second half. Nicollet (8-0, 7-0) had more yards offensively in the first half (193) than LeRoy-Ostrander (7-1, 6-1) could muster in the entire game (177).

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"We knew coming in we had a chance to knock them off," Hulke said. "We knew we could find the end zone through the air."

"It is an upset if you look at it some ways," said Nicollet coach Tom Murphy. "But this was just two good teams battling it out."

The Raiders took advantage of an early momentum swing as an interception on LeRoy-Ostrander's second play from scrimmage resulted in Nicollet's first touchdown.

Hulke hooked up with Mike Rosin for a 26-yard touchdown on Nicollet's first play from scrimmage after Jamie Wagner's interception of L-O quarterback Jake Rowe's first pass attempt.

"It was inexcusable the way we covered them," said Cardinal coach Stan Olson. "But we settled down and played well after that.

"I'm just disappointed in the way we started. The momentum was such a big thing."

Rowe's interception came on the Cardinals' second play after receiving the opening kickoff. Nicollet converted immediately, but LeRoy-Ostrander answered in championship form.

After Kyle Stern sacked Hulke and recovered his fumble, the Big Red rushing machine went to work. Eric Nelson scored a 28-yard touchdown on fourth-and-three, and Chad Orum's extra-point kick knotted the score at 7-7.

But Nicollet was not to be outdone. The Raiders' fluent offense fired back with its second touchdown just five plays later as Hulke hit Paul Nourie on a 29-yard pass to paydirt.

LeRoy-Ostrander scored its second fourth-down touchdown to open the second quarter as Dustin Thorson found Orum on a bootleg from 11 yards out.

Nicollet's answer was almost automatic. Hulke hit Jamie Wagner for a 20-yard scoring strike to put the Raiders back on top to stay three minutes later.

Nicollet had a touchdown pass to Hulke called off on an offensive pass interference penalty on fourth down, which gave the ball back to the hometown Cardinals at their own 46-yard-line. On the first play Ben Adams broke a 54-yard touchdown run up the right sideline, but an illegal procedure penalty negated the play.

The Raider defense held up and stopped Adams on third-and-three later in the drive, and the Cardinals were forced to punt. The half ended with Nicollet leading 21-14, and a battle of field position would keep the Cards out of the end zone in the second half.

"Those five guys up front worked their butts off," Hulke said of the Raiders' defensive line. "They're the reason we won this game. We made them put it in the air and we knew we could stop them."

The LeRoy-Ostrander defense adjusted to Nicollet's potent passing attack to keep the Raiders in check, but the Cardinals offense had just 52 yards and two first downs in the final two quarters. L-O crossed midfield twice in the second half, but nothing the Cardinals threw at Nicollet worked.

"They're very good, they're as fine a team as I've seen in some time," Olson said. "They have an awful lot of skilled players."

Sophomore Neal Bucknell played two series at quarterback for L-O, but his rifle for an arm had little time to find receivers as Nicollet's defense dominated the game. The Cardinal quarterbacks were a combined 4-for-15 for 20 yards.

"They were quicker than us overall, and we're darn quick," Olson said. "They invited us to pass, and our receivers were open a lot, but you can't blame the quarterbacks because they didn't get time.

"I guess we tried them all. I wish we could have tried some more offensive linemen."

L-O's loss was the first since eventual 9-man champion Hillcrest Lutheran Academy eliminated the Cardinals in the state semifinals last November. LeRoy-Ostrander will have a first-round bye in the Section 1 playoffs as the top seed. The Cards will host either Cleveland (1-7, 1-6) or Alden-Conger (0-7, 0-8) in the semifinals Saturday, Oct. 26, in LeRoy.