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Football: Strong second half puts Eagles in section championship game

The New Life Academy football team celebrates with running back Sam Bissen after he scored on a short run in the second quarter. (Bulletin photos by Blaze Fugina)1 / 3
Jackson Wallerick and Austin Have of New Life Academy run to track down Hill-Murray ball carrier Patrick Kennedy during the first half of Saturday's section semifinals game.2 / 3
New Life Academy quarterback Adam Busch looks to pass downfield during Saturday's section semifinals game at East Ridge High School.3 / 3

A memorable season for the New Life Academy football team will continue at least one more game.

New Life Academy defeated Hill-Murray 27-15 on Saturday at East Ridge High School for just the second-ever playoff win in program history. The Eagles will now play South St. Paul in the Class 4A, Section 3 championship game next Friday.

“This is a great group of guys,” head coach Gene Teigland said on Saturday. “Obviously we don’t have a lot of numbers, but they work their butts off. It’s really exciting.”

Hill-Murray led 8-7 heading into halftime on Saturday, but the Eagles were able to open things up on offense in the second half. Quarterback Adam Busch scored on two short runs to give New Life Academy a 20-8 lead in the fourth quarter.

Hill-Murray responded with a 29-yard touchdown run from Jake Ogren to cut the lead to 20-15 with 8:09 left in the game.

However, New Life Academy was able to eat nearly all of the remaining time with the ensuing drive starting at its own 25-yard line. The Eagles had two fourth-down conversions on the drive, including a 4th and 10 that resulted in a 32-yard touchdown pass from Busch to wide receiver Austin Have for the 27-15 lead.

Teigland said he decided to go for the fourth downs because he knew the offense could convert.

“The whole time our offense was dominant,” said running back Sam Bissen. “We made a couple of mistakes on defense, but our offense was consistent the whole game.”

Bissen rushed for a team-high 122 yards and a first-half touchdown on Saturday. Busch was 11-for-19 passing for 177 yards, and Have caught nine of those passes for 135 yards.

The New Life Academy players admitted they had a few nerves after receiving the first-ever section tournament bye in program history for Tuesday's quarterfinals. But they were able to settle down in the second half.

“I think the first half we might have been a little nervous,” Busch said. “I know a bunch of the seniors were. The second half we kind of went out there and left everything out on the field.”

The section tournament will not get any easier for New Life Academy against South St. Paul, the state’s top-ranked team in Class 4A. The Packers defeated Simley 31-7 on Saturday for a spot in the section championship game.

With just one playoff win ever in program history coming into this season, the Eagles might have been easy to overlook. But now they are just one game away from the state tournament.

“It’s crazy. In the beginning, we didn’t have a lot of players, but that didn’t really mean anything,” Busch said. “All the teams looked at us like, ‘Oh, they aren’t going to be any good.’ But then we came out playing like a big team.”

The Class 4A, Section 3 championship game will be played at 7 p.m. on Friday at South St. Paul.

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