By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
Undefeated Nicollet used a 20-6 second-half surge to outlast Madelia 33-26 Saturday afternoon in a Section 2, Nine-Man semifinal football clash that featured remarkable performances by both quarterbacks.
Sophomore Dalton Elliott generated 411 total yards for the Raiders while Madelia senior Adam Cooling totaled 349 yards.
Cooling rushed for three scores while Elliott fired three touchdown passes in the fast-paced contest. Nicollet’s Evan Guffey, who didn’t catch a ball in the first half, hauled in four passes in the second half for 128 yards and a pair of TDs.
“I was able to make the plays in the second half when they gave me the opportunities,” said Guffey, who grabbed four TD receptions in last week’s 53-28 win over Alden-Conger. “The first one I just wanted to catch the ball and keep running while the second one Dalton just put it up there and I went after it.”
Madelia (7-3) built a 20-13 halftime lead after the Raiders scored first on a 3-yard flat pass from Dalton Elliott to running back Tanner Elliott. The Blackhawks’ first score came after Nicollet failed on a 4th-and-inches from their own 15-yard line. Cooling, who rushed for 155 yards in 25 carries, ripped off runs of 8 and 5 yards before taking it in from a yard out.
Junior Jack Bergeman capped a 42-yard, seven-play drive moments later by cutting back against the grain for a 5-yard TD run. Nicollet then cut the deficit to 14-13 on Dalton Elliott’s 6-yard run around left end before Cooling’s nifty 11-yard scamper on a 4th-and-10 play closed out the first half scoring.
Dalton Elliott ended up with 178 rushing yards on 29 attempts and 233 passing yards while connecting on 15 of 24 attempts.
“I was real worried at halftime because I didn’t know where we were mentally,” Nicollet coach Tom Murphy said. “I had no idea how we’d respond but then we held them to six second-half points.
“Adam (Cooling) is the best athlete we’ve seen all year. He’s a phenomenal player who puts his team on his shoulders and really carries them.”
Nicollet (10-0) cut the deficit to 20-19 early in the second half when Dalton Elliott fired a 68-yard scoring strike to Guffey, who made the catch at the Blackhawks’ 30-yard line before slipping a tackle and racing down the left sideline. Guffey then made a leaping catch between two defenders for a 31-yard gain, setting up his 14-yard TD reception with 8:43 remaining to give the Raiders a 27-20 lead.
Cooling countered by guiding the Blackhawks on a 75-yard, nine-play drive where he accounted for all but 10 yards. Cooling’s 8-yard TD run on a quarterback draw made it 27-26, but Dalton Elliott brought down Cooling on the two-point conversion to keep the Raiders in front.
“Madelia is a heck of a team and Adam Cooling is an absolute beast,” Dalton Elliott said. “We’ve got a great O line and we thought we could pound it down their throat.
“We didn’t execute right away but we played well when it mattered. Their D ends were flying and crashing so I just let my brother lead the way and I was able to get to the edge.”
Tanner Elliott’s 2-yard TD run with 36 seconds to go put the Raiders ahead 33-26 and set up an interesting finish that came up 2 yards short when Cooling’s desperation heave on the game’s final play was deflected into the hands of Jon Whitney at the Raiders’ 2-yard line.
“I have so much admiration for Nicollet and their program,” Madelia coach Terry Arduser said. “We had control of the game in the first half but we knew Nicollet was going to come out in the second half with their pride. They’re champions for a reason and they really came after us.”
Junior Matt Christenson led the Raiders with 17 tackles and an interception. Guffey made 13 stops while Dalton Elliott was in on 11 tackles and Kenny Fischer came up with two interceptions.
Nicollet hosts Mountain Lake Area Friday for the 2A, Nine-Man title.