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Avon senior Brandon Kocmich (2) runs the ball behind junior Kole Beeson (30) against Hamlin in the Class 9B state football championship at the DakotaDome in Vermillion Friday. Avon won 24-22. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

Avon comes from behind, holds off Hamlin for 9B title

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VERMILLION — Coming into the Class 9B state championship Friday, Avon junior fullback Kole Beeson had not caught a single pass all season, but that changed in the fourth quarter.

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With Avon trailing 22-16 with just under 2 minutes on the clock, Beeson caught a screen pass from junior quarterback Logan Mudder and scampered 38 yards for a touchdown, which tied the game at 22.

Junior running back Devin Tolsma pounded his way in on a two-point conversion run to give the No. 2 Avon Pirates the 24-22 victory over the No. 1 Hamlin Chargers.

“This is awesome,” Beeson said. “I couldn’t have asked for more than to help bring a state championship home to Avon.”

The last time the Pirates (12-0) won the state championship was in 2008, when Avon claimed the 9A title over Gettysburg.

The pass, which Beeson caught just out of the backfield, was set up perfectly as Hamlin defenders rushed Mudder, allowing Beeson room to maneuver up field and get in the end zone. Mudder finished with 80 yards and a touchdown on 2-of-5 passing.

The Chargers had one final drive to overcome the late deficit, but Cody Namminga intercepted a pass to secure the win for Avon, giving the Pirates their fifth state title.

The touchdown was the second of the half for Avon, which trailed 22-8 at halftime. The Pirates scored their first touchdown of the second half in the third quarter on an 8-yard run by senior running back Brandon Kocmich, who finished with 99 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries. He converted the two-point conversion to cut the Charger lead to six.

“Right before the kickoff, I told the kids, ‘If West Central could come back from down 14 points, why can’t we?’ ” Avon coach Tom Culver said. “I said, ‘Let’s just go out and play and let’s see what happens.’ ”

The Pirates struck first, driving 79 yards to score on a 20-yard touchdown run by Tolsma. The drive was aided by first-down runs of 30 and 17 yards from Kocmich.

The opening drive was the most success for Avon early as the Charger (11-1) defense didn’t let the Pirates sniff the end zone for the rest of the half.

“We had to get our line to stay with blocks,” said Culver. “Hamlin is very athletic and they have a good team, but part of it was also what we weren’t doing well.”

While the Hamlin defense was busy shutting down Avon, the Charger offense led by junior quarterback Brody Grantham was scoring.

After Avon’s opening touchdown, the Chargers scored 22 unanswered points. All three Hamlin first-half scores came from the hands of Grantham.

The junior quarterback connected with Austin Niemann on a 20-yard touchdown pass to kick off the scoring for Hamlin. Next, he hit his brother, Ryder Grantham, for a 10-yard touchdown pass, before capping off the half with a 12-yard run.

“We had them in the first half,” Hamlin coach Jeff Sheehan said. “We knew we could play with them and offensively we move the ball very well. Brody is a work horse. He plays quarterback but realistically, he is also a fullback for us.”

Grantham’s dual-threat ability gave the Pirates problems in the first half. He finished the game with 154 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Running back Dustin Quiram added 97 yards on 18 carries. While Quiram and Grantham had success in the first half, the Pirates tightened the reins in the second half and did not let the Chargers score another touchdown.

Leading the way for Avon’s defense was Tolsma, who finished with 16 tackles. He also had 94 rushing yards and one touchdown en route to being named the Joe Robbie Most Valuable Player of the Class 9B game. Junior defensive lineman Jacob Knodel and sophomore defensive lineman Alex Balvin each had seven tackles.

Avon 8 0 8 8 — 24 Hamlin 8 14 0 — 22 First Quarter AVN — Tolsma 20 run (Mudder run), 9:16.

HAM — Niemann 25 pass from B. Grantham (B. Grantham run), 4:27.

Second Quarter HAM — R. Grantham 10 pass from B. Grantham (pass failed), 7:51.

HAM — R. Grantham 12 run (Grantham run), :41.

Third Quarter AVN — Kocmich 8 run (Kocmich run), 7:09.

Fourth Quarter AVN — Beeson 38 pass from Mudder (Tolsma run), 1:08.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS RUSHING —AVN, Kocmich 21-99, Tolsma 16-94, Anderson 2-4, Mudder 9-20. HAM, B. Grantham 20-154, Quiram 18-101.

PASSING — AVN, Mudder 2-5-1, 80 yards; Kochmich 1-1-0, 31 yards; Anderson 0-1-0. HAM, B. Grantham 4-12-1, 79 yards.

RECEIVING — AVN, Kocmich 1-42, Beeson 1-38, Namminga 1-31. HAM, R. Grantham 2-48, Niemann 1-25, Koisti 1-6.

DEFENSE — AVN, Tolsma 16 tackles, Kocmich 8 tackles, Namminga, 5 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception. HAM, B. Grantham 10 tackles, R. Grantham 10 tackles, Tristen Namken 10 tackles.

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