For the Cowboys this year, if it can go wrong, it’s just an inevitability. It’s going to happen.
Holding a 10-point lead in the second half, Breckenridge looked assured of its first win of the season Friday night at home versus Crookston, Minn. But a pair of bizarre on-side kickoff recoveries gave Crookston enough opportunities to get the job done in a 20-13 win over the Cowboys.
It’s been a difficult season for Breckenridge coach Chad Fredericksen and his players, but Fredericksen stressed the effort his young team is giving.
“We’re not going to say close is good enough by any means. Our guys played good enough to win tonight, and I’m really proud of them,” he said. “Where we’ve come from playing Wahpeton to now, we’re starting to put things together. We did what we needed to do, but got a couple of unfortunate breaks.”
Led by sophomore quarterback Nate “George” Blaufuss, the Cowboys were a threat with every possession, mixing runs with a short, controlled passing game. Behind an energized offensive line, it was Blaufuss who opened the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown plunge early in the second quarter to make it 7-0 Cowboys.
“Anybody that knows George would say he’s older beyond his years,” Fredericksen said. “He’s a man. It’s nice to roll through him, he’s not a typical quarterback. He’s going to put his head down and hurt you if you’re standing too high. I’m proud of the way he performed.”
The Breckenridge defense came to play Friday night, and shut down Crookston running back Josh Edlund, who had famously run for 415 yards and seven touchdowns two weeks ago against Park Rapids, Minn. But the Cowboys bottled up Edlund, mostly limiting him to small gains.
“The guys played extremely well on the defensive side of the ball,” Fredericksen said. “Our scheme was great and our coaches were fantastic again.”
Crookston got on the board late in the half with a field goal, but Breckenridge held the lead at halftime, 7-3, and started the third quarter with a bang. Aaron Neppl took the kick up the gut of Crookston’s special teams unit all the way down to the Pirate 16-yard line. From there, it took the Cowboys only one play to get to the end zone, as Michael Whitney shed a tackler and sprinted all the way to a 13-3 lead for Breckenridge just 18 seconds into the second half.
“The thing with Michael is he’s got speed to the hole,” Fredericksen said. “He did a nice good of cutting against the grain and scored for us.
Crookston then went on a long drive, ending with a Edlund 3-yard TD run, cutting the lead to three. The ensuing kick was blasted low off a Breckenridge special teams front man and recovered by the Pirates. Crookston looked poised to take the lead, but Breckenridge’s Alex Myhra delivered a shot on a fourth and short running play, getting the ball back. Myhra and Derek Nordick, who had a couple of sacks, were start on the Cowboys’ line.
“I can’t say enough about both of those guys. They’ve put together a pair of phenomenal weeks for us,” Fredericksen.
It seemed the Cowboys had finally worn out their second-half troubles, but in the fourth quarter, everything went wrong for Breckenridge. Edlund finally got loose for a long run into Cowboys territory, where a field goal tied the game at 13-13. Poised to get the ball back, instead, disaster struck again.
The kickoff was squibbed again off the legs of a Cowboys’ front man, and was again recovered by Crookston, who had unbelievably pulled off the same trick twice. It was devastating to the Cowboys, and Crookston capitalized with a long touchdown pass to take the lead 20-13 with six minutes to play.
Breckenridge went in reverse on its next possession and had to punt, giving the Pirates a chance to seal the win. But a field goal try, was blocked by Jordan Christensen, giving the Cowboys the ball with 1:40 to play and 85 yards to go for the tie.
“The game was literally on the line and our guys made a play,” Fredericksen said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to get these guys to do, and they finally got it.”
At that point, Blaufuss and wide out Conrad Kondos became inseparable, as the pair hooked up for four completions for 45 yards on smart out-routes to the sideline. The Cowboys got the ball to the 16-yard line on a third-and-one, but a sack backed them up. Blaufuss’ last pass was overthrown to Richard Grohman in the end zone as Breckenridge fell a few yards short of a comeback.
“We’re 0-5, and there’s nothing good about 0-5,” Fredericksen said. “But we’re starting to mold ourselves. We’re running out of weeks, but we’ve got to hang in there. I feel good about our guys.”
The Cowboys (0-5) face another tough challenge next Friday, hosting No. 7 Hawley, Minn.