As high school football playoff games go, the Section 3AAAAA semifinal at Tiger Field on Saturday night, Oct. 27 certainly was no yawner. Not by any stretch. Not when host Farmington and visiting Minneapolis Southwest combined for a whopping 84 points and 771 total yards. In the end, FHS secured a 49-35 victory with senior quarterback Darren Beenken throwing for 311 yards and five touchdowns, including three to junior wide receiver Mac Bassett. It was Farmington's first playoff win since 2006.
The action-packed triumph sends the Tigers to the sectional final at Apple Valley on Friday, Nov. 2. The Eagles reached the final after downing St. Louis Park 38-14. Top-seeded Apple Valley, which finished third in the South Suburban Conference, now stands 7-2. Farmington, the second seed, also improved to 7-2 as they bounced back from a lackluster performance in a 35-7 loss at Shakopee in the regular season finale.
Minneapolis Southwest, runner-up in the Minneapolis Conference to Washburn, proved to be a worthy foe on the cool (37 degrees) but windless evening. The third-seeded Lakers had beaten Bloomington Jefferson 20-16 in the first round. Their senior class had become the first Laker team in school history to have three consecutive winning seasons and they possessed a first-rate dual threat in quarterback Darin Richardson.
Farmington jumped out to a 14-0 lead and led 28-13 at halftime behind three Beenken touchdown passes. Twice the Tigers took two-touchdown leads but each time, the Lakers rallied to tie. After three quarters, the game was tied 35-35. However, Beenken sealed the game with his fourth and fifth scoring tosses of the game. Both went to wideout Mac Bassett and both came on identical fade patterns in the right corner of the end zone.
Head coach Mark Froehling was relieved and probably a little tuckered out from witnessing the offensive onslaught. He said, "I was read proud of how our guys just kept battling. Everytime they rallied, we responded with a key play. We knew they had some good athletes and could spread the field out on you."
As for Beenken's sterling effort, Froehling remarked, "He was just awesome when we needed him most. He threw the ball well, especially on the long ones, and he stepped up as a senior leader for us."
Although the offensive exploits were obvious, it was the defense that provided the impetus for victory as Farmington forced turnovers on three straight Southwest possessions in the second half. Junior cornerback Mitch Gaylord, who switched to safety when Reid Taubenheim suffered a concussion in the first half, was tremendous replacing his talented teammate. He leapt high to intercept Richardson at the Tiger five yard-line with FHS leading 42-35, just when it appeared that a Laker receiver was about to tie the game. Gaylord made a diving interception on the next series to help the Tigers secure the win.
"Gaylord was huge for us and made two critical plays when the game was on the line," said Froehling. "He stepped up big-time in the defensive backfield and was excellent with his kicking, also."
Junior running back Derek Klotter was a workhorse for the winners, rushing 38 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Held down early, he was stuffed up the middle on most rushes there but excelled when he could get outside with his speed.
Meanwhile, Mackinley (Mac) Bassett led an outstanding effort by four junior Farmington wide-outs. In addition to the two vital fourth-quarter touchdowns, he scored on a 67-yard bomb to give his team a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. He finished with four catches for 96 yards. Tyler VanWinkle averaged 35.7 yards a catch with three catches for 107 yards. Johnny Dittman caught two balls for 54 yards, including a 44-yard scoring play on a fly pattern which gave FHS a quick 7-0 lead. Jordan DeCrook, who also returned four kicks for 77 yards, had two grabs for another 40 yards. Another junior, tight end C.J. Wynings, caught a 14-yard touchdown pass. With Beenken normally having good protection, the Tiger speedsters were able to consistently get behind the Laker defenders.
"Bassett is so aggressive going to get the ball and getting his body in position to make plays," added Froehling about his talented receiver. "Our entire corps of receivers really went up for the ball well and they were great in the blocking game, too."
Besides outgaining Minneapolis Southwest 443-328, the Tigers had 18 first downs to the Lakers 13. Beenken averaged 25.8 yards per completion, as he went 12 for 20 with one interception. His counterpart, Richardson, proved shifty and elusive as a runner and a capable passer. Richardson ran 17 times for 54 yards and a touchdown and was 14-24 passing for 177 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Most of Richardson's yards came on scrambles as he was harassed consistently by the Tiger defense. Dantavian Sears had nine rushes for 84 yards and a touchdown while Jimmy Roth had three receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, junior linebacker Mason Auge was stellar. He had a team-high seven solo tackles and five assisted tackles, in addition to a sack and was active all evening. Another junior linebacker, Nickolas Ruark, had 6.5 tackles (four solos), a sack, and recovered a "pooched" onside kick. Junior tackle John LeBlond was credited with 2.5 sacks and was a force in the line. Senior safety Alex Chadwick had five solo tackles, a blocked punt that led to a Tiger touchdown and a blocked extra point.
"We gave up some points and Southwest made some nice individual efforts but our defense was tough when they had to be and those three straight turnovers were very important to our success," said Froehling. "Auge, Ruark, and LeBlond really got after it and we persevered."
Up for grabs in the Section 3AAAAA finals, of course, is a state tournament berth. The Dakota County teams, playing in separate conferences, will have plenty of motivation to prove their mettle in what appears to be an evenly-matched contest.
"We don't know much about Apple Valley before we see film on them but I know they like to run the ball," stated Froehling. "We will have to stay true to our assignments on defense and fill the gaps." Froehling and company hopes that the Beenken aerial show and the opportunist defense is ready for prime time, too, and that safety/kicker/punter Reid Taubenheim will be cleared for action, too.
1st Quarter Recap:
On Farmington's second possession Darren Beenken hit Tyler VanWinkle with a 22-yard strike. Derek Klotter rushed three times for a total of 15 yards. Facing third and 13, Beenken rolled out left and rifled a pass to a wide-open Johnny Dittman at the Laker five-yard line and he waltzed into the end zone for a 44-yard touchdown. Reid Taubenhem coverted and Farmington led 7-0 with 3:54 showing on the clock.
After holding Southwest on downs for a second straight series, FHS took over at their own 33. Klotter lost a yard and then gained a yard before Beenken fired long downfield and connected perfectly with Mac Bassett at the Laker 25, who strode into the end zone on a 67-yard touchdown play. Taubenheim's extra point was good and the Tigers led 14-0 with 15 seconds left in the initial quarter.
2nd Quarter Recap:
After holding the visiting Lakers again without a first down, Richardson's short 25-yard punt gave FHS the ball at their own 45. On the second play, Beenken was blindsided and fumbled with Southwest tackle Ahmad Aly recovering. The Lakers finally earned a first down when Richardson passed 10 yards to DeAnthony McKinley. Richardson ran up the middle for five yards and on the next play, he was rushed hard but scrambled up the middle again for a twisting 18-yard touchdown. Evan Winter converted the extra point and Farmington led 14-7 with 8:00 left in the half.
Farmington's next series led to a shanked Taubenheim punt (17 yards) and Southwest took over at the Tiger 35. After a holding penalty and a stout Tiger defensive effort, Southwest was forced to punt and the Tigers got the ball back at their own nine-yard line. Klotter ran behind right guard but was stripped by linebacker Alfred Hartwell and the Laker defender bulled his way nine yards for a touchdown and the Lakers were within a point. However, senior safety Alex Chadwick knifed in to block Winter's conversion and Farmington kept a 14-13 lead with 5:10 left.
On the next series, Beenken hit Dittman for a 10-yard first down before hitting VanWinkle on a slant for 23 more yards. DeCrook took a swing pass 15 yards to the Laker 17. Klotter carried off left tackle for three yards. Facing third and seven, Beenken was flushed out of the pocket by a hard Laker rush and barely got off a lofted pass to the end zone. The ball narrowly got over the hands of a Laker defender but junior tight end C.J. Wynings made a sensational catch at his shoetops for a 14-yard touchdown. Taubenheim's kick was good and Farmington took a 21-13 lead with 2:07 remaining.
Taubenheim, with one of the strongest legs in the metro, didn't boom his kickoff into the end zone, however. He popped up his "pooch" kick and the ball took one high bounce and Nick Ruark recovered it at the Southwest 37. Klotter ran twice for 12 yards. On his third rush, Klotter took the ball in the backfield and the entire left side of the Tiger offensive line had the Lakers sealed. Klotter bolted toward the left corner the end zone to complete a 25-yard touchdown scamper. Taubenheim conversion was true and the hosts now led 28-13 at halftime.
By halftime, Beenken was already 8 for 13 for 198 yard and three touchdowns and Klotter had 17 rushes for 67 yards, including 37 yards on his final three carries. Farmington held a wide edge in first downs - 11 to two.
3rd Quarter Recap:
Minneapolis Southwest started the third quarter with a seven-play, 72-yard drive to pull within 28-21 with 8:38 left in the frame. Dantavian Sears ran three times for a total of 23 yards. After a Farmington personal-foul penalty, Richardson ran for 10 yards to the Tiger 15. Richardson hit Camden Knuckles on a slant at the five-yard line and he ran in for a 15-yard score. Sears ran in the two-point conversion.
After Jordan DeCrook ran back the kick 19 yards to the Tiger 29, Beenken's second down pass was intercepted by Southwest's Oliver West on a jump ball at the right sideline and the Lakers took over at their own 25 after a block in the back on the return. Richardson fumbled but fell on the ball for a five-yard loss before Tiger senior defensive end Tom Sell sacked him for another five-yard loss. Facing third and 20, Richardson was smothered by Nick Ruark and John LeBlond. Punting from his end zone, Richardson's punt was partially blocked by Chadwick and recovered by the Tigers at the Laker nine-yard line. Klotter immediately skirted around right end untouched for a touchdown on another perfectly-blocked effort by the Farmington offensive line. Mason Gaylord converted and FHS led 35-21 with 5:19 left in the quarter.
The scoring flurry continued unabated as Southwest responded with another 72-yard drive. McKinley's screen pass for six yards earned a first down at the Laker 34. Richardson then overthrew Roth for a sure touchdown down the middle on a blown coverage. Undaunted, Richardson tossed another long bomb that Roth caught at the Farmington 30 with two Tiger defenders draped on him. While they fell, Roth regained his footing and raced into the end zone for a spectacular 65-yard scoring strike. Winter kicked the extra point and the wild and wacky affair now stood at Farmington 35, Minneapolis Southwest 28 with 2:44 on the clock.
DeCrook had a nice 24-yard return to the Tiger 33 but Farmington was forced to punt and Kevin Olund's 27-yard punt gave Southwest the ball at their own 34. A questionable pass interference call on FHS gave the Lakers a first down at the 44. Then Sears, a slender senior running back, busted up the middle and ran 56 yards for the tying touchdown, breaking three or four tackles on a tough, determined run. Winter's kick was good and the score was tied at 35 with 58 seconds left in the third quarter.
Just as the Laker faithful started to believe an upset was at hand and the Tiger rooters showed obvious concern, the big-play Farmington offense came to the rescue. Klotter was stopped for no gain at the Tiger 26. Beenken stepped back and winged the ball on a line to VanWinkle, who was completely unguarded at midfield and finally was caught from behind at the Laker 13 for a 61-yard gain.
4th Quarter Recap:
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Klotter banged for four yards. Beenken faded back and tossed a high timing pass over Bassett's right shoulder. The junior made a diving catch for a nine-yard touchdown. Gaylord converted and the partisan Farmington crowd cheered the 42-35 lead with 11:17 still left.
Gaylord's deep kick and sound coverage gave Southwest the ball at their own 18. Sears and Richardson both ran for first downs. Knuckles dropped a pass that would have gained 20 yards but the left-handed Richardson hit Jackson Hurst for 31 yards to the Farmington 27. On the next play, Richardson appeared to have Roth for a game-tying touchdown down the middle of the field at the Tiger five-yard line. However, the ball was slightly underthrown and it gave safety Jason Gaylord just enough time to leap in front of him and intercept. The critical turnover may have been the play of the game.
Farmington then completed a clutch, 10-play, 95-yard drive to score and put the game away. Klotter ran eight times for 63 yards on the impressive series with his slashing bursts and DeCrook caught a 25-yard pass from Beenken. Facing a third and eight from the Laker 17, the Beenken-Bassett connection hooked up again as Beenken put some air under the ball down the right sideline. The "alley-oop" toss worked and with Gaylord's extra-point, Farmington took a reasonably-safe 49-35 lead with 4:42 remaining.
Gaylord's "pooch" kick was caught for a fair catch by the Lakers at their own 40. Richardson went back to pass but his pass was tipped and Gaylord snared the ball with a diving catch at the Tiger 43. Klotter's three carries netted just six yards and Olund punted to the Southwest 23. With 2:24 left, Southwest had to score quickly and then get the ball back. It didn't happen, as a ferocious Tiger pass rush forced a Richardson fumble and Ruark recovered for his second fumble recovery at the Southwest 28. The Lakers had turned the ball over on three successive offensive plays; each, however, was forced by sound Tiger defense.
The Tigers just needed to hang onto the ball and Klotter did. Despite gaining just two yards on four carries, the Lakers had just 1:18 after FHS turned the ball over on downs at the Laker 26. Richardson passed for two first downs as the Tigers effectively protected itself against the deep ball and the game ended with Richardson being sacked by a slew of Tiger defenders at the Laker 21.
Section 3AAAAA Semifinal: Saturday, Oct. 27
Minneapolis Southwest 0 13 22 0 = 35
Farmington 14 14 7 14 = 49
Farmington - John Dittman 44-yard pass from Darren Beenken (Reid Taubenheim kick)
Farmington - Mac Bassett 67-yard pass from Beenken (Taubenheim kick)
Minneapolis Southwest - Darin Richardson 18-yard run (Evan Winter kick)
Minneapolis Southwest - Alfred Hartwell 9-yard fumble return (kick blocked)
Farmington - C.J. Wynings 14-yard pass from Beenken (Taubenheim kick)
Farmington - Derek Klotter 25-yard run (Taubenheim kick)
Minneapolis Southwest - Camden Knuckles 15-yard pass from Richardson (Dantavian Sears run)
Farmington - Derek Klotter 9-yard run (Mason Gaylord kick)
Minneapolis Southwest - Jimmy Roth 65-yard pass from Richardson (Winter kick)
Minneapolis Southwest - Dantavian Sears 56-yard run (Winter kick)
Farmington - Mac Bassett 9-yard pass from Beenken (Gaylord kick)
Farmington - Mac Bassett 17-yard pass from Beenken (Gaylord kick)