TGU Titans move on, Shiloh next
TOWNER – Eli Luna continued his electric start to the 9-man state playoffs with a dazzling performance in the final home game of his career.
The senior quarterback passed for three touchdowns and ran for another score as Region 3 champion TGU rolled past Region 4 runner-up Richardton-Taylor-Hebron 40-8 in the state quarterfinals Nov. 1.
After the win, Luna darted back to his team’s sideline to ring the stadium’s “Titan Victory Bell” one last time.
“Every time you ring it, it’s just music to your ears,” he said. “There’s nothing else like it.”
The fourth-ranked Titans (10-1) advanced to next Saturday’s state semifinals at No. 2 Shiloh Christian (11-0), the Region 4 champion. The No. 5-ranked Raiders ended the year 9-2.
Luna, a two-time all-state selection as a defensive back, did most of his damage in the first half. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound speedster carried 11 times for 114 yards and completed 12 of 17 passes for 143 yards as the Titans took a 24-0 lead into halftime.
Luna finished with 187 rushing yards on 18 touches and 151 yards through the air on 13-of-18 passing.
“We knew that he had to have a big game,” TGU coach Scott Thorson said. “Offensively, we go as Eli goes. In the first half, he was outstanding. He played awful well.”
The Titans scored on every other possession throughout the game.
They opened the scoring with just under 4 minutes remaining in the first quarter. On their second drive, Luna found senior receiver Colter Thorp for a 40-yard touchdown pass, and the pair connected on the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
Thorp, who had all 108 of his receiving yards before halftime, caught a 14-yard TD pass and the ensuing conversion midway through the second quarter to push TGU’s cushion to 16-0.
“Luna was hot to start the game,” R-T-H co-coach Travis Olson said. “He couldn’t miss. Great receivers, too.”
Late in the first half, after TGU sophomore free safety Kolter Schell picked off R-T-H senior quarterback Jacob Kuntz, Luna capped a four-play, 35-yard drive with a 23-yard scamper. Junior tight end Evan Burckhard caught the conversion pass to spot the Titans a 24-point lead.
TGU outgained the fifth-ranked Raiders 282-55 in the first half, something Luna credited to his offensive line.
“Everything was working for us today,” he said. “We could pass the ball, we could run the ball. That’s due to the guys up front. They don’t get any credit and they deserve a lot.”
R-T-H had trouble running the ball, particularly in the first half when it managed 42 yards on 27 carries. The bulk of the Raiders’ 124 rushing yards came after TGU subbed in its backups.
“I was a little skeptical if we were good enough to stop their run game,” Thorson said. “Their run game is as strong as we’ve seen. … I’m not surprised that our kids stopped them, but I’m certainly pleased that they did. Our defense played outstanding. There’s no other words to put it but outstanding.”
In the third quarter, TGU’s stingy secondary set up its fourth score.
Thorp picked off Kuntz – who was 5-of-14 passing for 49 yards – and returned it to the Raider 8-yard line.
Luna, who accounted for seven touchdowns in the Titans’ 56-22 first-round win over Mott-Regent, threw an 8-yard TD pass to Burckhard two plays later and ran in the conversion.
In the fourth quarter, Luna broke free for a 50-yard run to the R-T-H 17 before taking a backseat to Schell, TGU’s second-string quarterback.
Schell ran in from 2 yards out and junior running back Lane Schmitt waltzed in for the conversion and a 40-0 lead. Schmitt carried 11 times for 55 yards.
Thorson said Luna benefited from Schmitt’s hard-nosed running.
“Lane was hurting them and they started keying on him,” Thorson said. “That certainly opens things up for Eli.”
With 3:35 to play, Raiders junior fullback Dallas Colgrove romped 41 yards to paydirt. Senior tight end Spencer Floberg caught the conversion to make it 40-8 before TGU ran out the clock.
Colgrove amassed 89 yards on 11 carries to lead R-T-H, which recorded just seven first downs all day, with four coming after halftime.
“You’ve got to be able to get a rhythm going and we just weren’t able to get any kind of rhythm going offensively,” Olson said. “There were a couple here and there, but nothing really to get anything going.”
The Raiders’ only previous loss came to Shiloh Christian, which beat Grant County-Flasher 36-8 in the quarterfinals.
Thorson calls Shiloh Christian “the real deal.”
“They’re kind of the class of the West here and we’re the underdogs,” Thorson said. “I guess it’s our job to try to go knock them off.”
Note: TGU lost to Divide County 30-14 in the state semifinals in 2012. The Titans last reached the Dakota Bowl in 1992, when their co-op consisted of just Towner and Granville.
Follow Ryan Holmgren on Twitter @ryanholmgren.
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