Instead, the Eagles’ 17-player senior class chose to keep grinding.
“We started off (slowly) and we knew we could do better,” Lourdes senior lineman Matt Mahoney said, “so we just kept working and working and working and we’re seeing that pay off now, so we’ll keep working hard.”
Mahoney’s season has been a mirror image of his team’s: Start slowly, but build toward late October and take advantage of some late-season opportunities to turn the team’s confidence around.
“We have a lot of confidence, but we know we have some work to do,” the 5-feet-11, 185-pound Mahoney said.
That attitude has paid off for the Eagles, who have advanced to the Section One, Class AAA semifinals after shutting out Pine Island 28-0 in a section quarterfinal game Tuesday at Rochester Regional Stadium.
Mahoney — who missed all of the Eagles’ allotted offseason workouts over the summer due to a lower-body injury — played a pivotal role in Tuesday’s victory, Lourdes’ third consecutive shutout.
“He had a real tough offseason,” Lourdes coach Mike Kesler said of Mahoney, who starts on both the offensive and defensive lines. “Matt has started for us since he was a sophomore … a special player.
“He couldn’t do anything all summer. He came to (team) camp with us even though he couldn’t (participate) … he couldn’t do anything with hockey or football over the summer — he loves hockey, it’s his favorite sport — but you can tell he’s fully healthy now and he really makes a difference for us.”
Mahoney sacked Pine Island’s quarterbacks twice on Tuesday and opened the scoring in the game when he recovered a Panthers fumble at the Lourdes’ 25-yard line — just one play after Lourdes had fumbled the ball away — and used a convoy of blockers in purple jerseys to sprint 75 yards for a touchdown with 4:22 to play in the first quarter.
Mahoney’s scoop-and-score gave fourth-seeded Lourdes (4-5 overall) the lead for good against fifth-seeded Pine Island (2-7).
“We all crashed down, I dove for it and didn’t get it, then it popped right back up,” Mahoney said. “I grabbed it and I knew I had to take off. Luckily I had some guys helping me on the way. I had a little bit (of open field), but I knew there were probably some guys behind me, so I had to get on my horse and go.”
Lourdes defensive back Gannon Fix runs for a touchdown after intercepting a Pine Island pass in the fourth quarter of a Section 1AAA quarterfinal playoff game on Tuesday at Rochester Regional Stadium. Lourdes beat the Panthers 28-0 to advance to Saturday’s section semifinals.
Photo courtesy of Dan Borgeson
That was one of myriad plays made by the Eagles’ defense on Tuesday, a list that includes a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter by Gannon Fix. That Pick-6 capped the scoring and allowed Lourdes to start thinking ahead to Saturday, when it’ll play at top-seeded and No. 6-ranked Cannon Falls in a Section 1AAA semifinal.
“Our defense has been playing well for a while now,” Mahoney said. “We just keep building off that. Our line gets off the line fast and goes hard and our d-backs are getting to the ball and attacking it.”
The Eagles also received 100 yards rushing and a touchdown from Eli Haight, and 97 yards rushing and a TD from Seth Haight. But Lourdes defense was the star of the show Tuesday, just six days after the Eagles and Panthers met in the regular season finale, a 42-0 Lourdes win at Pine Island.
This time, Lourdes forced four turnovers and made Pine Island punt eight times. The Panthers had the ball in Eagles’ territory for a total of just three plays in the game, one of which Mahoney turned the other way for a touchdown.
Pine Island finished with just 71 yards of offense and seven first downs. It was led by standout tailback Jarod White, who managed 38 yards on 13 carries.
“That’s the way it’s been the last few weeks,” said Kesler, who added that he can’t remember Lourdes ever recording three straight shutouts during his 25 years on the coaching staff. “We’re playing fundamentally sound team defense. That’s what it’s going to take this time of year.
“We had a tough assignment with their running back and run game and I was really pleased with how we handled that.”
Lourdes defensive back Aidan Johns runs with the ball after intercepting a Pine Island pass in the first half of the Eagles’ 28-0 victory in a Section 1AAA quarterfinal game on Tuesday at Rochester Regional Stadium.
Photo courtesy of Dan Borgeson
Lourdes will face a much bigger challenge on Saturday, when it goes to Cannon Falls. The Eagles lost by just three points, 17-14, when they played at Cannon during the regular season. But, like Lourdes, Cannon Falls is a much improved team from the first time these teams met this year, back on Sept. 10.
“I think our kids know … they obviously were really crushed after that one,” Kesler said. “We played really well up there, it was a tight game and they beat us on a last-second field goal.
“…(The Bombers’) execution (on offense) makes them so tough. You literally don’t know where the ball is. They do a great job on the offensive line; they love the weight room up there. They get off the ball hard.
“It’s just the way they execute up there. They don’t run a lot of plays, but what they do, they do it very, very well.”
Cannon Falls (7-1) has won three consecutive games after its only loss of the season, a 44-34 setback to Chatfield on Oct. 2. Lourdes has also played well in recent weeks — outscoring its last three opponents 112-0 — and hopes to use that momentum to its advantage.
Tuesday’s win also kept an impressive streak alive for the Eagles — they have now won a playoff game every since 2006, with the exception of the 2020 season, when they didn’t play a postseason game due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The kids are confident,” Kesler said. “We saw this summer the kind of team we have. We said it in August, we have a good football team. It just took us a while to get going.”
LOURDES 28, PINE ISLAND 0
Pine Island 0-0-0-0 — 0
Lourdes 7-7-0-14 — 28
LRDS — Matt Mahoney 75 fumble recovery (Aidan Jahns kick) 4:22.
LRDS — Seth Haight 14 run (Jahns kick) 4:58.
LRDS — Eli Haight 86 run (Jahns kick) 7:25.
LRDS — Gannon Fix 30 interception return (Jahns kick) 6:55.
P.I. — LRDS
First Downs 7 — 9
Total Net Yards 71 — 264
Rushes-Yards 27-23 — 39-254
Passing Yards 48 — 10
Comp.-Att.-Int. 8-19-2 — 1-7-0
Fumbles-lost 3-2 — 3-3
Penalties-Yds. 4-30 — 4-30
Punts-Avg. 8-37.8 — 4-38.8
Time of Possession 24:37 — 22:46
P.I. — Jarod White 13-38; Corbin Allen 5-4; Sam Knox 1-1; William Grobe 1-3; Garett Sperber 2-(minus-3); Blake Schiltz 5-(minus-20). LRDS — Eli Haight 5-100, 1 TD; Seth Haight 18-97, 1 TD; Trevor Heindel 7-38; Luke Bigler 1-17; Noah Wieneke 1-1; Mardoche Pierson 1-1; Braden Mlenar 6-0.
P.I. — Blake Schiltz 7 comp.-12 att.-1 int., 41 yards; Garett Sperber 1-7-1, 7 yards. LRDS — Braden Mlenar 1-4-0, 10 yards; Luke Bigler 0-3-0, 0 yards.
P.I. — Corbin Allen 2-23; Matthew Horkey 2-13; Sam Knox 2-7; Jarod White 2-5. LRDS — Seth Haight 1-10.