Rapids falls to Benilde

GRAND RAPIDS - Luke Vaneps came to the sideline late in Grand Rapids' Class AAAA quarterfinal football game against Benilde-St. Margaret's and promptly spiked a football into the frozen ground.

GRAND RAPIDS - Luke Vaneps came to the sideline late in Grand Rapids' Class AAAA quarterfinal football game against Benilde-St. Margaret's and promptly spiked a football into the frozen ground.

The Thunderhawks quarterback had just thrown his second interception, meaning the Red Knights had a 19-7 high school state tournament victory safely in hand.

Vaneps didn't care that some may have thought Grand Rapids (7-5), which at one point was 1-4 - with the lone victory coming by a point - didn't belong in the state tournament. Vaneps and company not only showed they were worthy, they felt they could have won. Make that, should have won.

Benilde-St. Margaret's (9-3) used a physical, ball-control offense, some trickery and stingy defense to stifle the Thunderhawks before about 1,300 fans at Noble Hall Field. The Red Knights advance to their first state semifinal, where they will play St. Thomas Academy at 12:45 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

"We could have beat this team,'' said an emotional Vaneps, his hands scraped and bloody. "This is a team that sticks together through everything. We've got a lot of heart. We weren't giving up.''


Grand Rapids came out and tried to establish its running game, as it had last week in an upset of Duluth Central in the Section 7AAAA title game, but Benilde-St. Margaret's was tough up front, averaging about 260 pounds on both sides of the line.

The teams exchanged drives before the Red Knights drove into Grand Rapids' territory. Here's where the trickery came in. Facing a second-and-15 at the Thunderhawks' 30, Benilde-St. Margaret's ran a play similar to the Minnesota Vikings' old Statue of Liberty play, where quarterback Jon Lynch cocked his arm as if he was going to throw. In reality, fullback Dan Rolston had the ball, and rumbled 30 yards for a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.

"The play is called a B-draw,'' Rolston said. "You just take one step, and everyone else is going the opposite way. Then I just run with it. One of their guys hit me in the backfield and didn't know I had the ball. It makes it easy when nobody knows you have it.''

The second quarter was a defensive grudge match until Benilde-St. Margaret's took over at the Grand Rapids' 42 with 1:17 to play. The Red Knights converted a key third-and-15 and punched in a score on Tom McCarthy's 1-yard run.

With a 13-0 lead and the ball to start the second half, Benilde-St. Margaret's was thinking ball control, and the Red Knights did just that. They drove 68 yards on 19 plays, converted three of four fourth downs, and took an astonishing 9:45 off the clock.

"Maybe we should have came out throwing, but we wanted to test the waters,'' Grand Rapids coach Tim Botsford said. "We had success last week running the ball, and our goal is always to keep the ball away from the other guys. But it ended up being a reverse of last Friday. With that one drive, I said to myself, 'Geez, when's this going to end?'''

It ended at the Thunderhawks' 10-yard line, and Grand Rapids again was pinned deep, on the losing end in a field-position battle.

The Red Knights got the ball back after a Vaneps' pass was tipped and intercepted. After converting another one of the B-draw plays, the Red Knights went up 19-0 on a misdirection play as McCarthy scored from 19 yards out.


Grand Rapids answered on its ensuing drive as Vaneps found senior wide receiver Brandon Moberg on a 3-yard fade route to the left corner, cutting the lead to 19-7 with 5:49 to play.

The Red Knights controlled the ball for about 30 of the game's 48 minutes, including about 17 minutes in the second half. They outgained Grand Rapids 320 to 205 in total yards, with Rolston pacing the rushing attack with 11 carries for 62 yards.

Vaneps finished 13-for-28 for 162 yards for Grand Rapids, which never established its ground game.

Benilde-St. Margaret's 7-6-0-6--19

Grand Rapids 0-0-0-7--7

BSM - Dan Rolston 30 run (John Grupa kick)

BSM - Tom McCarthy 1 run (kick failed)

BSM - McCarthy 19 run (kick failed)


GR - Brandon Moberg 3 pass from Luke Vaneps (Josh Cagle kick)

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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