When Chaska threw the ball on second-and-1 from its own 17-yard line in the Class 5A State Quarterfinals, it caught everybody by surprise. Especially the Mahtomedi Zephyrs.
Grif Wurtz aired out a throw to a wide open Nic Snuggerud, a catch and run of 83 yards, a two-touchdown lead en route to a 35-7 win.
So when Chaska faced a third-and-15 from its own 3-yard line in the state semifinals Nov. 15 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, it shouldn't have been a surprise to see Snuggerud going deep on a route.
A catch-and-run of 97 yards, though, shocked everyone. Part of a 378-yard offensive performance from Chaska, which advanced to the program's first Prep Bowl in a 34-14 win over Coon Rapids.
"All I had to do was run. Grif put it in the perfect spot. It landed right in my arms. I was fortunate enough that the (defender) fell down, knocked over the other guy," Snuggerud said.
Like they have all post-season, the Hawks dominated the first three quarters, a 24-6 lead.
For one drive, though, Coon Rapids pushed back, an opening possession touchdown drive that spanned 80 yards on 11 plays over three minutes of game clock.
Contrast, the Cardinals had the ball just seven of the 24 minutes in the first half, held to three first downs and three rush yards.
David Geebli went 23 yards on the ground on the first play of the third quarter. Four Jake Van Hulzen passes and a first-down run extended the drive, a Geebli 5-yard run drawing Coon Rapids within 17-6 on the missed extra point.
"It felt good. It felt really good. Before we came out for the second half the coaches were saying we had to run the ball. When I scored that touchdown I thought that was going to be a spark for the rest of the game," Geebli, a sophomore, said.
How would Chaska respond?
After a short run and incomplete pass, Wurtz and Snuggerud connected on a first-down reception. The rest was history, or ground attack.
Eleven consecutive run plays, gains of three, five, four, three, nine, five, two, five, three and six, set-up a Stevo Klotz 6-yard touchdown run. The lead back to 24-6.
The perfect response.
"I think that was huge. We kind of came out flat on defense, let them chuck the ball down the field. It was big with the momentum. Their crowd was into it. Our offense came up big, went down the field and got it back," Chaska head coach Bryan Dahl said.
Klotz, team leader with 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns, part of a 231-yard team effort, called it a "counter-punch." He ran out of the Wildcat formation the last four plays, taking the direct snap. A formation Chaska has found success this season.
"We have plays that go to the left or right. We pull a guy and I just look for the hole. You just got to hit it quick," Klotz said.
Chaska iced the victory with a second interception from Kage Montoya, setting up a Snuggerud 23-yard field goal at 27-6.
Following a Coon Rapids turnover on downs, Matthew Kuntz, who rushed a team-high 22 times for 70 yards, extended the lead to 34-6 on a 3-yard score with 5:45 remaining in regulation.
Chaska, the Class A runner-up in 1974, will play in its first Prep Bowl at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30 against St. Thomas Academy.
"It's kind of crazy. It hasn't sunk in yet. Yeah, a very memorable, crazy experience," Klotz said.
Chaska's stout defense, which hadn't allowed a touchdown in the first three quarters in six previous games, set the tone early on.
On just the second play, Montoya hauled in an interception deep in Chaska territory following a Hawk turnover.
Following a three-and-out on the Cardinals' second drive, Chaska recovered a fumble on drive No. 3, a total of eight plays with two turnovers and just 30 yards gained.
"They're here for a reason. Big, strong, physical. And they proved it today," Coon Rapids first-year head coach Nick Rusin said of Chaska's defense. "We knew going into this week was going to be a great challenge. ... Credit to them. Credit to their game plan. Their physicality."
Chaska capitalized, claiming a 14-0 lead on a 36-yard blast of a run from Klotz, who broke two tackles and high stepped a diving attempt at his feet on a fourth-and-3 run.
"When we run the ball like we do, it opens up a lot of in the pass. It really helps our team when we can pound the ball like that," Snuggerud said.
Chaska, which fumbled away a potential scoring drive on the ensuing drive, missed a 45-yard field goal as well. Snuggerud, who earlier in the post-season connected from 46 yards, with a strong wind, got a second crack on the final drive of the first half.
Dahl sent out Snuggerud, who had the leg from 45, for a 52-yard attempt. This time he was through the upright. Just three yards shy of an all-time Minnesota State High School Football record. A 17-0 lead at the break.
"Honestly, before today, I didn't know I had the power for that. I got the adrenaline going," Snuggerud said.
"That was fun. The ball was flying tonight," said Dahl of warm-ups in the kicking game. "He hits those in practice. He hit that first one with a lot of leg, so we said 'let's go.'"
"I was confident in myself," Snuggerud added.
Wurtz was 7-of-12 passing for 147 yards and one interception. Snuggerud caught four balls for 117 yards.
Klotz, Hunter Brackee and Max Lommel all recorded sacks for Chaska with Michael Brown recovering a fumble. Tackle leaders were Brown (six), Montoya (five), Klotz (four), and Adam Ouska (four).
If Chaska (11-1) can run the ball successfully, can stop opponents from running the ball and has 13 intercepted passes defensively this season -- five in two state tournament games -- if the Hawks can continue to get big plays out of the passing game themselves, how can anyone compete with them?
"We have been very fortunate. We have a great school, a great group of leaders, and a great community that gives us a lot of support," Dahl said. "It's special. We knew we had a good group of athletes and even better kids and this could be a special year. These kids have responded to everything we've challenged them with. They worked like crazy. It's going to be an awesome experience. We've enjoyed playing here."
Chaska beat St. Thomas Academy 20-0 in week eight. The Cadets beat Owatonna 21-0 in the state quarterfinals and Elk River 53-16 in Saturday's state semifinal.