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Cottonwood slips by No. 8 Luverne

Big kick returns have been a big part of Cottonwood’s success all season.

So much so that Bears coach Willard Whitcomb calls it a blessing.

Friday night, the Bears were counting that blessing in so many ways.

Trailing by seven points with less than five minutes to go, Cottonwood junior Rhy-Shaun Tillman returned a Luverne kickoff 93 yards for a score and converted a two-point conversion to take a 14-13 win.

On the conversion, quarterback Allen Williams took the snap and headed toward the corner, but was stopped and appeared to be headed down. At the last minute, he flipped the ball to his right to Dexter Williams and the younger sibling charged into the end zone, barely breaking the plain of the end zone as he was being tackled.

&uot;We had a veer called, hoping to pop Allen out there (on the corner), but he had nowhere to go, but he knew he had nothing to lose and saw his brother and pitched it to him,&uot; Whitcomb said. &uot;Dexter then got it into the end zone. It was a great play by both of them.&uot;

Luverne made one last charge, moving from its 35 to the Cottonwood 27 with 1:27 left. However, the Tigers threw four straight incompletions, ending the drive and sealing the win for the Bears.

The two plays along with a defensive stop in the final minute helped Cottonwood (8-4) get the win and advance to the Class 2A quarterfinals and will be at home against Red Level next Friday at Hicks Field.

&uot;This is a great group of kids and they have been knocking on the door all year and we lost some close games, but they have never quit,&uot; Whitcomb said of his team, whose four losses have been by a combined 16 points. &uot;They are a joy to be around. We want to keep the season going, so we can keep this team together because they enjoy each other so much. We want to make it last as long as we can.&uot;

Luverne, last year’s state runner-up, ended the year 9-3.

&uot;The best football team won the game,&uot; Luverne head coach Mike DuBose said.

&uot;Cottonwood deserved to win. They outexecuted us and outhit us and made the plays when they needed and we didn’t. I definitely feel the best team won.&uot;

Luverne appeared to have control of the game behind a defense that didn’t allow much to the Bears, especially in the second half, and a late touchdown score.

The Tigers, behind a 10-play, four-minute plus drive, inched ahead 13-6 with 4:44 left. The drive was sparked by a punt snap to up-man Brandon Kilpatrick, who gained three yards for a first down on fourth-and-three at the Cottonwood 37. Tiger junior quarterback Ryan Brown scored six plays later on a 1-yard sneak. The extra point was wide right, keeping it a seven-point margin.

That margin didn’t hold up long.

On the ensuing kickoff, Luverne’s Ryan Brown boomed a kick that bounced high into the air inside the 10. Tillman plucked it out of the air, raced up the middle through a hole then popped outside to the left and down the Luverne sideline for a 93-yard touchdown return.

Cottonwood grabbed a quick lead, scoring on the game’s first series. Allen Williams earned the score on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. The extra point failed, leaving it 6-0.

Luverne forged ahead in the second quarter with an impressive 15-play, 82-yard drive that consumed 7:25 off the clock. Sophomore running back Fred Hawkins earned the score on an 11-yard run off the left side. Brown’s extra point put the Tigers up 7-6 with 4:13 left before halftime.

Defenses ruled the rest of the way, though Luverne had several scoring chances in the second half thanks to good field position.