JORDAN — The Fillmore Central football team was not satisfied with just a section championship.
Sure, it was a special moment last week when after 10 previous runner-up finishes, the Falcons finally punched their ticket to the MSHSL state football tournament with a win over Bethlehem Academy.
But, for them, that was all a part of their preseason checklist.
Next on that list?
Make it to U.S. Bank Stadium.
"We had a lot of focus during the week," two-way standout senior Bryce Corson said. "We went to turf one day and there was no talking. Just strictly business.
"First time at state, we weren't going out Round 1."
Corson and company made good on that promise even when put to the ultimate test on Friday against top-ranked Lester Prairie.
The Falcons appeared to have the game won until their late lead was put into jeopardy when a sudden fumble with under 3 minutes left gave the Bulldogs the ball back for a chance at the winning score.
But the tough and gritty Falcons defense once again answered the bell, halting LP's one last gasp just past midfield to secure Fillmore Central's first ever state tournament win with an 18-16 win in a Class A state quarterfinal on Friday night at a cold Jordan High School.
The No. 2 ranked Falcons will now play No. 10 ranked Minneota in a Class A semifinal at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19 at U.S. Bank Stadium. Just another check box in need of being crossed off for the Falcons.
"The Bank, that's another one of those check boxes they wanted to check," Fillmore Central coach Chris Mensink said. "They got that and now it's hopefully more to come."
Entering the fourth quarter it appeared the Falcons were well on their way to Minneapolis after a Dillon O'Connor 1-yard touchdown plunge made it 18-8 heading to the fourth quarter. O'Connor had two rushing touchdowns, making it 6-0 on a 5-yard dash in the first quarter.
But LP refused to go away.
Led by the powerful Tanner Scheevel, the potent run-first LP offense that averaged around 300 yards per game was beginning to find its footing.
His 38-yard touchdown and subsequent 2-point conversion was good to make it 18-16 with 8:43 left.
Both teams swapped possession and it seemed the Falcons had put a stranglehold on the game when they drove down inside the LP 25. With LP having just one timeout left, FC just needed one more first down to secure the win.
But an option play that appeared a bit discombobulated resulted with the ball being on the ground. LP recovered with 2:48 left to give itself life again.
Yet, the Fillmore Central sideline never flinched, never lost faith.
"These kids play in the moment," Mensink said. "They never get too high, never get too low. They just always have the next play mentality and that's what they've doing all year long. We didn't expect anything else."
But stopping Scheevel and the Bulldogs ground game was no easy task.
Scheevel — whose father Ross played at Fillmore Central in the 1990's — was terrific all night long, finishing with 205 yards rushing 29 carries. He was the LP offense, even taking direct snaps and throwing sometimes. That included an 18-yard passing touchdown in the first half on a tipped pass.
He was simply a force.
"He was everything as advertised," Mensink said. "Wow."
The Bulldogs were able to get a couple of first downs on the drive, but the Falcons weren't about to let Scheevel end a magical season.
A big fourth-and-3 suddenly loomed large and there was no doubt who was getting the ball.
Scheevel took the direct snap and was immediately stuffed at the line of scrimmage by a host of Falcons for a turnover on downs with just over a minute left.
The Fillmore defense comes up again! This time on a 4th and 3 in its own territory. Should be 3 kneel downs. 65 seconds left pic.twitter.com/Z8JhEaURxe— Alex VandenHouten (@AlexVandenhout1) November 12, 2022
Three kneel downs later and the Falcons had secured the program's first state tournament victory.
"No. 40 was definitely the best guy on the field," Corson said. "Our defensive line was just insane tonight, so we knew we could stop him."
Corson was brilliant on both ends.
He finished with 157 yards from scrimmage (107 yards receiving on 7 receptions, 50 yards rushing). His 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Falcons a 12-0 lead in the second quarter, but he was also big on defense.
He halted a LP drive inside the Falcons 40 with an interception which came just two plays after the Bulldogs appeared to switch momentum with an interception of their own that was returned 60 yards in the third quarter.
He was also key in providing run support from his safety spot for a defense that was just simply great throughout
Now, the Falcons are heading to the warm and cozy confines of U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time in program history.
"We talked about how it was going to be a defensive game," Mensink said. "They have a great defense and we have a great defense, the kids just battled and competed. Couldn't be prouder."
Final: No. 2 Fillmore Central 18, No. 1 Lester Prairie 16. What a game. Falcons defense and Byrce Corson were money all night long to give FC its first state tournament win. Heading to the bank on Saturday pic.twitter.com/oIZrznxxEN— Alex VandenHouten (@AlexVandenhout1) November 12, 2022
Fillmore Central 18, Lester Prairie 16Fillmore Central 6-6-6-0—18Lester Prairie 0-8-0-8—16
FC — Dillon O'Connor 5 run (kick no good) 5:12
FC — Byrce Corson 2 run (pass failed)
LP — Logan Lambrecht 18 pass from Tanner Scheevel, (Scheevel run) 0:19.
FC — O'Connor 1 run (run failed) 8:09
LP — Scheevel 38 run (Scheevel run) 8:43
RUSHING: FC — Dillon O'Connor 16-20, Bryce Corson 15-50, Kyle Daniels 4-6, Luke Hellickson 1-5; LP — Tanner Scheevel 29-205, Logan Lambrecht 8-34, Nicholas Guggemos 3-6.
PASSING: FC — O'Connor 18-32-1-206; LP — Scheevel 2-2-0-26; Guggemos 1-6-1-12.
RECEIVING: FC — Chase Christianson 5-67, Hellickson 3-36, Corson 7-107, Jake Fishbaugher 1-7, Daniels 2-20; LP — Lambrecht 2-26, Owen Zebell 1-12.