CEDAR FALLS — Balance is a boring word, says Hudson football coach Justin Brekke.
Dynamic is more exciting.
It certainly described Hudson’s performance Friday in the UNI-Dome as the third-ranked Pirates made plays in every phase of the game to turn back No. 9 St. Ansgar 41-17 in the semifinals of the Class A playoffs.
For 22 years, Hudson has watched other teams play for the state championship. Thursday at 1:30 p.m., the 12-0 Pirates will get their chance to win it all for the first time since 1994 when they face West Sioux.
“The 1994 team was amazing, so it feels great to be in their ... presence, I guess,” said Hudson quarterback Jacob Murray.
Friday’s semifinal was a back-and-forth battle throughout the opening half.
Each team punted on its first possession. Hudson’s Christian Series broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown run. Josh Van Vliet answered for St. Ansgar with an 82 sprint to the end zone.
Hudson put together a 75-yard drive to go up 14-7. The Saints (11-1) marched 80 yards for a TD. Wes Geisler kicked a 27-yard field goal for the Pirates. Jack Mendoza booted a 25-yarder for St. Ansgar.
The game took a turn in Hudson’s favor in the final 1:46 of the half when Murray engineered a crisp, 69-yard scoring drive that included four pass completions in five attempts for 57 yards. Two of them went to Al Hageman, including an 18-yarder for a 24-17 halftime lead.
Defensively, the Pirates had their hands full with the Saints’ powerful ground game, which finished with 299 yards.
“This was one of the rare occasions in Class A football where we had a bigger opponent than us,” said Hudson coach Justin Brekke. “Right there the challenge was present the second we turned on the tape.
“Being able to move those bodies and match their physicality was our goal.”
“They’re big dudes and we don’t have the size with our JV to simulate that,” added Hudson defensive tackle Matt Seres. “We have our gap and our motto on defense is, ‘Do your job.’”
Hudson used a lengthy touchdown drive and a key turnover in the third quarter to pull away. The Pirates took their initial possession of the second half 74 yards, using 16 plays and 6 1/2 minutes for a two-score lead.
When the Saints, who lost Van Vliet to a first-half injury, tried to put together an answer, Hudson forced a fumble that Geisler recovered to stop a drive that reached the Pirates’ 23.
Geisler also intercepted a pass with St. Ansgar on the move midway through the fourth quarter and turned it into a 43-yard field goal to all but seal the Pirates’ trip to the championship game.
“Today we had really good execution,” said Brekke. “Our original game plan defensively, we were having some problems with it ... We adjusted. To do that and adjust, I’m proud of these guys.”
Murray finished 11 of 18 passing for 165 yards while Christian Seres ran for 198 yards to lead the offense.
“It was so much fun,” said Murray. “It was energetic ... so much emotion the entire game, up or down.
“Our defense stepped up and on offense we could run the ball or pass the ball. Our line was so good I could just sit back there and deliver the ball or we could pound the ball.”
St. Ansgar coach Drew Clevenger tipped his cap to the Pirates.
“Give the Hudson kids a lot of credit,” he said. “They made plays at opportune times. Every time we got them in a third-and-long, they seemed to come up with a first down.
“Offensively for us, it was a little more of two steps forward and one step back in the second half.”
Now it’s on to the finals for Hudson.
“It feels way good,” said Geisler, who has been part of a senior class that has improved each season. “When we came in freshman year, we talked about not being average. I think that’s helped get us there.”
Hudson 41, St. Ansgar 17
St. Ansgar 7 10 0 0 — 17
Hudson 14 10 7 10 — 41
Hud — Christian Seres 51 run (Wes Geisler kick)
SA — Josh Van Vliet 82 run (Jack Mendoza kick)
Hud — Seres 19 run (Geisler kick)
SA — Jack Sievert 23 run (Mendoza kick)
Hud — FG Geisler 27
SA — FG Mendoza 25
Hud — Al Hageman 18 pass from Jacob Murray (Geisler kick)
Hud — Seres 1 run (Geisler kick)
Hud — FG Geisler 43
Hud — Alec Staebell 19 run (Geisler kick)
First downs 18 21
Rushes-yards 48-299 41-282
Passing yards 57 165
Comp-att-int 6-18-1 11-18-0
Return yards 0 43
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-1
Punts-avg. 3-37.0 1-47.0
Penalties-yards 4-20 6-60
ST. ANSGAR — Dayton Smith 24-106, Josh Van Vliet 4-91, Collin Kramer 6-18, Jack Sievert 11-63, Ethan Kirchgatter 1-13, Sam Juenger 2-8.
HUDSON — Christian Seres 30-198, Cameron Fulcher 4-35, Alec Staebell 4-26, Ethan Fulcher 3-23.
ST. ANSGAR — Kramer 6-18-1, 57 yards.
HUDSON — Jacob Murray 11-18-0, 165 yards.
ST. ANSGAR — Smith 2-22, Sievert 1-9, Kirchgatter 3-26.
HUDSON — Staebell 4-80, Al Hageman 3-36, E. Fulcher 2-22, Zach Buzynski 1-21, Izik Rodriguez 1-6.