Prep Football

Alburnett's turnaround season continues with playoff win over Highland

From 1-8 to 5-2, Pirates advance to face Belle Plaine in second round

Alburnett Pirates
Alburnett Pirates

ALBURNETT — From just one win all last season to one playoff victory this year.

The whirling turnaround of the Alburnett football program will continue for at least another week.

After posting a 1-8 mark a year ago, the Pirates earned their third postseason triumph in school history and first since 2011, beating Highland, 40-19, in a Class A first-round playoff football game Friday night at Jim Carver Field at Martin Sports Complex. Alburnett will play at Belle Plaine (6-2) in the second round.

“It is crazy,” Alburnett senior quarterback Hunter Caves said. “I can’t really put it into words. Just keep going, hopefully.”

The Pirates recorded their fourth consecutive win, improving to 5-2. Alburnett Coach Rich Velazquez identified the potential for success, noting the athletes’ feats in other sports. It just hadn’t transferred to the gridiron, yet.

“There is a lot of heart in these kids,” Velazquez said. “There is a lot of playoff pedigree in these kids. A lot of these kids went to state in baseball and basketball, and just never made that far in football.

“I think they had it all along.”

The Pirates jumped to a strong start, scoring on the game’s opening drive. Caves capped a 62-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown run, getting sprung untouched by Reed Stallman’s downfield block for a 7-0 lead just three minutes into the first.

Alburnett has battled slow starts this season, but posted the first three scores of the game. Setting the tone was crucial.

“We were always that second-half team,” Velazquez said. “We put it together in practice this week. We were able to get out to that good start. That’s what we were hoping for and that’s what the kids needed.”

Shane Neighbor added a 2-yard TD run about midway through the second quarter. Caves hit Stallman and Kale Rose for scoring strikes of 37 and 29 yards for a 27-7 halftime advantage.

Caves made a nice throw on the run to hit Stallman in the back of the end zone on the first play of that possession.

“It was a broken down play,” Caves said. “I was supposed to hit him earlier but he was covered. I just rolled out, heard him scream my name and saw him in the back of the end zone. Just toss it up to him. He’s a big dude.”

Caves finished with 172 yards passing and added 43 on the ground. He had his hands in three TDs and set up a couple more.

“He does,” Velazquez said about Caves’ dual-threat ability. “You don’t know what to do if you’re on the defensive side of the ball.

“I’m glad he’s a Pirate.”

Stallman and Carson Klostermann had touchdown runs in the third quarter.

The Pirates spoiled a big game by Highland’s Owen Donovan. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound hard-running rusher tallied 187 yards on 32 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Connor Grinstead added 54 rushing yards and a score for the Huskies, who finish 1-6.

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