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Football: Tigers outmuscled in the middle

Wide receiver Jordan DeCroock tries to shake off a Chanhassen defender during Friday’s game.

Frank Ragnow and his fellow offensive linemen gave Chanhassen a decided advantage along the line of scrimmage Friday night.

The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Ragnow, one of the top recruiting targets in the state this year, helped open up big holes all night for a Storm team that piled up 359 yards on the ground in a 21-13 Missota Conference road victory over Farmington in a windy and soggy Tiger Stadium.

Coming off a frustrating 56-7 loss at Chaska, the Tigers managed to score first against Chanhassen, which had won its previous two games by a combined score of 82-0. The Storm’s first punt into the wind went just nine yards, and a 37-yard slant from Tyler VanWinkle to Johnny Dittman quickly set up a one-yard sneak from VanWinkle to make it 7-0.

VanWinkle started Farmington’s next drive with a 30-yard scramble, but that was just about it for the Farmington running game. Chanhassen’s big defensive line (Ragnow played both ways) pressured VanWinkle and made the Tigers one-dimensional, holding them to 20 yards on the ground over the next three quarters.

“They have some big linemen and we knew going in it was going to be tough sledding. Our running backs made some nice cuts to get us a few first downs, but they’re tough,” Farmington coach Mark Froehling said. “They widen the gaps, spread out the line and make you run at them.”

Despite the pressure, VanWinkle managed to complete 16 of 31 passes for 210 yards and put the offense in position to put more points on the board several times. Kicker Reid Taubenheim pushed a field goal try wide right late in the first quarter and a mishandled snap voided another chance at a kick that would have given the Tigers the lead in the second.

After punting on their first two possessions, the Storm got their running game going in the second quarter. Ten straight running plays marched the visitors 80 yards to set up a seven-yard touchdown pass that tied the score at 7-7 with 7:04 to play before halftime.

The Storm got the ball first to open the second half and wasted no time taking the lead. Three plays in, running back Ryan Licau sprinted through a gaping hole up the middle and ran 66 yards for a touchdown.

Farmington’s next drive ended on an interception by VanWinkle and the Storm needed just seven plays, all runs, to cover 52 yards of turf for their third touchdown.

The Tigers went three and out on their next three drives, but finally caught a break when John LeBlond recovered a fumble at the Chanhassen 41 with 9:56 to go. A roughing the passer penalty and a screen pass to Noah Kary moved the ball to the three and on 4th and 2 VanWinkle rolled left and found Jordan DeCroock in a crowd for a two-yard touchdown.

Chanhassen blocked the ensuing extra point to keep the score 21-13.

The Storm got the ball back with 8:54 to go and used their strength up front to move the ball 76 yards and chew up nearly eight minutes of clock. They ran 15 plays and picked up three third downs before the Tigers finally stuffed a 4th and goal run at the four-yard line with 1:17 to go.

“The defense stepped up well,” Froehling said. “They got a big stop at the end of the game and gave us a chance to drive at the end of the game.”

The Tigers were given one last flicker of hope in the final 30 seconds, but it was quickly extinguished with a little help from the wet and slippery field conditions. VanWinkle scrambled away from pressure and found Mac Bassett for a 43-yard completion, moving the ball to the Chanhassen 32 with 20 seconds and counting ticking off the clock. The Tigers hurried to the line to stop the clock with a spike, but the ball slipped out of VanWinkle’s hand and the Storm jumped on the fumble to seal the game.

“Our intensity was better and our execution was better against another good defense in adverse weather conditions. We had great focus and played hard,” Froehling said. “There was great passion and great effort from our boys.”

Mason Auge led the Tigers with a season-high 15 tackles. Kevin Clifton, Godfrey Mpetey and Eli Rockett each finished with 6 ½.

The Tigers (4-2) take a two-game losing skid into tomorrow night’s road game against Holy Angels in Richfield. The Stars are 2-4 after losing to Chaska 42-3 last week.