BRAINERD, Minn. - Snow started to fall sideways just before Two Harbors and Perham squared off in a Class AAA state tournament quarterfinal this afternoon, and there was a sense that the fluffy white stuff would favor the Agates.
The Yellowjackets' offense, after all, is predicated on senior quarterback Jenson Beachy's passing. But the Minnesota State-Moorhead commit thwarted that assumption on the first play of the game, when he dropped a floater into the waiting arms of Finn Diggins, who outkicked the Two Harbors secondary for a 66-yard touchdown.
And while the Agates gamely hung around in the first half, they couldn't keep pace with Perham, which showed off some versatility by using its running attack to ground Two Harbors into the offseason via a 48-17 victory at Don Adamson Field.
"We weren't concerned about the weather," Yellowjackets coach Kyle Knutson said. "We play in rain, we play in cold, we play in snow."
Ultimately, neither the conditions nor the Agates (8-3) could slow Perham's array of playmakers, which included receivers Diggins and Josh Jeziorski, who are 6-foot-5 and 6-4, respectively.
"Our kids fought - they're just a good team," Two Harbors coach Tom Nelson said of Perham. "They have some size, they have some speed and they have some athletes."
Ricky Brenna's 1-yard plunge late in the second quarter, which followed a terrific leaping grab near the goal line by Jayden Ruberg on a fourth-down pass from Cole Komarek, cut the Agates' deficit to 12. But Perham (9-2) responded quickly - and with a little trickery - after recovering Two Harbors' onside kick. A reverse handoff went to Diggins, who appeared poised to run before stopping and firing a 28-yard strike to Jeziorski for a 28-10 halftime lead.
Defending the play was made more difficult with snow accumulating, which hampered footing and made cutting treacherous. A wide-open Jeziorski was the beneficiary, and his 47th reception of the season beat back any momentum the Agates had established.
Continuing Section 7's rough showing at the state tournament, Two Harbors did manage to put the region on the scoreboard - snapping the area's three-plus-game shutout streak - when Ryan Nowacki booted a 28-yard field goal with 2:07 remaining in the opening quarter.
Hermantown and Moose Lake-Willow River lost 44-0 and 40-0, respectively, in Friday night quarterfinals, and Deer River was blanked 42-0 earlier today.
The Agates hadn't been to state since 1977. Their long-awaited return was cut short by a buzzsaw.
"Maybe we didn't play our greatest game, but at the same time they're a tough opponent and they gave us some problems," Nelson said of the Yellowjackets, who meet Fairmont in next weekend's semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Beachy came in averaging close to 270 passing yards per night, and he still did some damage through the air, throwing for 181 yards and two touchdowns. But he was equally dangerous operating the option out of shotgun snaps. Repeatedly freezing Two Harbors ends before tucking the ball and keeping it himself, Beachy totaled 148 rushing yards and two more scores on 16 attempts.
Beachy's second TD toss came on a double reverse. Once he got the ball back, he flipped it 35 yards to Jeziorski for a 42-10 lead. The Yellowjackets were having fun in the elements.
"We knew it was going to be cold, we knew it was going to be snowing," Beachy said. "At practice, we preached that we weren't going to let that affect us. We just had to play our game."
Sam Johnson provided a highlight for the Agates by breaking free and creating 71 yards of snow tracks for a long score late in the fourth.
Johnson led Two Harbors with 96 rushing yards. Brenna added 87.
Two Harbors 3-7-0-7-17
P - Finn Diggins 66 pass from Jenson Beachy (Beachy run)
TH - Ryan Nowacki 28 field goal
P - Beachy 4 run (Josh Jeziorski pass from Beachy)
P - Ty Moser 21 pass from Beachy (run failed)
TH - Ricky Brenna 1 run (Nowacki kick)
P - Jeziorski 28 pass from Diggins (run failed)
P - Beachy 17 run (pass failed)
P - Jeziorski 35 pass from Beachy (Dawson Kellogg run)
P - Diggins 3 run (run failed)
TH - Sam Johnson 71 run (Nowacki kick)
Deer River 0
The Thunderbirds took the opening kickoff and marched 67 yards on five plays, capped by the first of three Parker Syverson rushing touchdowns. That was more than enough support for a defense that ended the regular season with five consecutive shutouts.
Third-ranked Mahnomen-Waubun (11-0) controlled this Class A quarterfinal from start to finish. So methodical was the blowout that the Thunderbirds outgained the Warriors 361 to minus-3 yards in the first half, during which Syverson ran for 145 yards as Mahnomen-Waubun built a 34-0 advantage.
Deer River (8-3), in the state tournament for the first time since 1999, had its winning streak snapped at seven games. On Brainerd's cold, hard turf field, the Warriors met an opponent that blew open huge running lanes for Syverson and his cohorts, who, given room to run, used their superior speed to peel off huge chunks of yardage all afternoon.
The Thunderbirds, who advance to next week's semifinals, finished with 426 total yards, compared to 23 for Deer River. Syverson totaled 196 on the ground.
The Warriors had a chance to get on the board early in the fourth quarter when Mahnomen-Waubun's botched punt snap resulted in a turnover that gave Deer River a first-and-goal from the 5. But the Warriors couldn't capitalize, leaving the Thunderbirds with their sixth shutout of the fall.
Deer River 0-0-0-0-0
MW - Parker Syverson 27 run (Tayvis Zima run)
MW - Syverson 25 run (Jeffrey Cukla run)
MW - Izaiah Asher 17 run (pass failed)
MW - Zima 5 run (kick failed)
MW - Zima 27 run (kick failed)
MW - Syverson 13 run (Starkey run)