Playing with big hearts and with a lot on the line, the Storm Lake High football team overcame a 27-17 halftime deficit to deal Algona a 31-27 loss here Thursday night in the district opener for both teams.
It was a classic matchup between a team that almost exclusively rushes the ball (Algona) and a team that is largely passing oriented in Storm Lake.
Algona used the rush effectively in the first half, chewing up yards with running backs Sam Page and Levi Kutchera on time-consuming drives.
But the Tornado defense came out on a mission in the second half and shut down the Algona offense.
"We didn't make a lot of positioning adjustments," Storm Lake coach Bill McCabe said after the game. "We just came up tight and tackled better."
The Tornadoes won on the strength of some key Algona turnovers combined with the strong arm of quarterback Ryan Brandt and a bevy of big-play receivers.
The Tornadoes fumbled away possession at their own 13 early in the first quarter and that led to a 3-yard run by Kutchera and an eventual 7-0 advantage.
The Tornadoes came back on a seven-minute, 17-play drive but couldn't push the ball in, as Jose Martinez kicked a 20-0 yard field goal. The Bulldogs led 7-3 after a low-scoring first quarter.
Algona came back right at the Tornadoes, rushing the ball at will and using a 6-play, 49-yard drive before Kutcher ran in from 14-yards out. After a missed extra-point, the Bulldogs led 14-3.
On the ensuing kickoff, senior wide-out, return man Alex Kwikkel ran 85-yards for a score, and that might have been the key play of the game. Along with Martinez' PAT, the Tornadoes were suddenly within 14-10.
Algona continued the second-quarter scoring fest with an eight-play, 65-yard drive that took just two minutes, 44 seconds and was capped by a 28-yard scoring pass by quarterback Ryan Hoofer. After a missed extra-point, Algona led 20-10.
The Bulldogs looked like they might run away with the game with 1:52 left in the first half when Page ran in from seven yards out for what became a 27-10 lead after the PAT kick.
Storm Lake roared back via some accurate passing by Brandt. They drove 69 yards on just six plays before Brandt connected with Kwikkel on an eight-yard scoring pass for the latter's second key play of the night.
Crucially, the Tornadoes were down just 27-17 at the half.
The Tornado defense stiffened in the second half, finally snuffing the potent Algona running attack.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs made some crucial turnovers in the third and fourth quarters.
A muffed punt in the third quarter set up a short field for Storm Lake and they capitalized on a 17-yard scoring pass from Brandt to wide-out Logan Masters.
In the fourth quarter and on a third down play near midfield, Algona fumbled away possession on a running play and the Tornadoes recovered at the Algona 47.
The Tornadoes capitalized again, this time taking the lead for good on another big play by Brandt and Kwikkel.
Brandt ended the series on a 17-yard scoring pass to Kwikkel, the latter's third score of the night.
About four minutes remained but the Tornadoes held Algona without a point the rest of the way. The game ended with five seconds left on an interception by corner Adam Ponsor.
Brandt finished with 31 completions in 47 attempts for 278 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Kwikkel caught seven passes for 48 yards, but all-district wide-out Ben Thompson was also a big play receiver, catching 12 balls for 138 yards. Logan Masters finished with five catches for 46 yards and one touchdown.
Algona rushed 50 times for 259 yards but Hoover was just 1 for 11 passing for four yards.