HURLEY — Hurley found the best way to stop Spring Valley's offense in the second half: Keep it off the field.
"Playoff football, you've got to be able to stop the run and we just didn't do a very good job stopping the run," Spring Valley coach Ryan Kapping said. "They're a good football team, physical. Everything we saw on film, they didn't really show us anything different. They executed and took it to us."
Saari became the Hurley single-season rushing leader at 1,673 yards — and counting — and received a Gatorade bath from teammates afterwards. He tallied 231 yards on 32 carries in his fourth game this season at more than 200 yards. Jarret Rhenlund had the record at 1,594 yards in 2011.
"I just couldn't be more proud of my team to get me there," Saari said. "They worked so hard to get me the holes I needed. I just kind of reeped the benefits of their hard work. I couldn't be happier we got the win tonight. Just a great night."
Hurley (9-1) will host No. 3 Athens (9-1) next week in Level 2 after the Bluejays knocked off Eau Claire Regis (5-5) 34-10 Friday.
Spring Valley made the Midgets earn it, passing for all three of its touchdowns and pulling within one possession with 3:50 left in the game. But Hurley — what else? — rushed for three first downs, including twice on third down to run out the clock.
"Proud of the way our kids battled and fought and we get another chance to play next week," Hurley coach Scott Erickson said.
The Midgets advanced with an amazing second half drive.
It came after both teams turned it over on downs to start the third quarter. Hurley took over possession on its own 20 with 5:58 left in the third quarter after stopping Spring Valley on fourth and eight as a pass sailed into a snowbank.
The drive numbers were epic:
10 minutes. 18 plays. 80 yards.
Saari capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown run.
"That was absolutely crucial. That was probably the win or lose right there," Saari said. "We knew we had to buckle down and keep driving, keep driving, no matter how hard it was. We got the job done. All the hard paid off."
During the drive, Hurley faced two fourth downs. Saari rushed for 19 yards on fourth and 2 at the SV 34 and two yards from the SV 6. That 19-yard run was when Saari became the single-season rushing leader at Hurley, not that anyone knew it at the time with the game still on the line.
"He earned it; he's so hardworking," Lupino said. "He works all the time. He's a great player, great teammate."
Erickson said, "Couldn't be happier for him. There's been a lot of good backs here and now he's on top of the list for the single season."
Two plays and a foul start penalty after converting on the second fourth down, it was fittingly Saari who scored.
What a drive. And Hurley led 26-15 with 7:52 left.
"Oh fantastic," Erickson said. "That's how we've made it through the second half of the year from the Pines game on. We've fortayed on just long grinders. That's the kind of club we've got and we're sticking to that game plan.
"We needed to keep that offense off the field. They're explosive. They got speed."
Hurley could have taken even more time off, but it fumbled and Spring Valley recovered at its own 22.
Just 1:16 later, Zach Newton hit Bryan Bednarek for a 53-yard pass touchdown with 3:50 to go. Hurley led 26-21.
Roman Lupino recovered the onside kick attempt and Hurley ran out the rest of the time with three much-needed first downs on the ground.
Spring Valley tied with a touchdown pass and conversion and Saari untied it later in the first quarter with a 40-yard touchdown run. Hurley led 14-8.
Lupino ran a punt back 32 yards to the Spring Valley 43. Saari capped the drive with a three-yard run, the second of his three touchdowns.
Spring Valley pulled within 20-15 on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Zach Newton to Jed Schlegel.
The Midgets turned it over on downs at their own 45, but Lupino came up big again, recovering the fumble at their own 13 late in the half. Chris Edyvean had the hit as Spring Valley was closing in on possibly taking the lead into halftime.
"Either our linebacker or safety came up and knocked it out. I seen it bounce out and I seen it and jumped on it," Lupino said. "It was a big play for us."
Lupino had a big night as well. He rushed for a season-high 123 yards on 19 carries and helped take some attention away from Saari, especially in the first half when he rushed for 99 yards.
"Roman had a hell of a night, did a lot of great things, rushed hard, ran through tacklers and found the holes," Saari said. "I tried to do the same thing. We both reaped the benefits of our blockers and a lot of hard work."
Spring Valley was a tough, as advertised, 7 seed. They were predicted to finish sixth out of seven teams in the tough Dunn-St. Croix Conference and they took third.
"It was a good season that way and we lay the foundation for some years to come," Kapping said.
Spring Valley totaled 136 passing yards, but was just 7 of 15, with bad throws and drops mixed in to an otherwise lethal attack.
"We struggled early to be consistent running the football and had to look at some passing opportunities," Kapping said. "We had to take what the defense gave us."
Spring Valley 8 7 0 6 — 21
Hurley 14 6 0 6 — 26
Hur — Mitchell Maki 35 run (Jake Tenlen run), 7:54
SV — Bryan Bednarek 10 pass from Zach Newton (Jed Schlegel run), 4:45
Hur — Mark Saari 40 run (run failed), :53
Roman Lupino punt 32 return to SV 43
Hur — Saari 3 run (pass failed), 8:59
SV — Schlegel 34 pass Newton (Bednarek kick), 7:08
Hur — Saari 3 run (pass failed), 7:52
SV — Bednarek 53 pass from Newton (pass failed), 3:50
First downs 13 23
Rushes-yards 23-149 65-443
Comp-Att-Int 7-15-0 1-3-0
Passing 136 10
Total yards 285 453
Fumbles-lost 2-2 4-1
Penalties-yards 2-10 3-25
Rushing — Spring Valley, Zach Newton 8-53, Jed Schlegel 5-36, Tyler O'Keefe 8-30, Logan Newton 2-30. Hurley, Mark Saari 32-231, Roman Lupino 19-123, Mitchell Maki 7-54, Jake Tenlen 7-35.
Passing — Spring Valley, Zach Newton, 7-15-136-0. Hurley, Jake Tenlen, 1-3-10-0.
Receiving — Spring Valley, Bryan Bednarek 2-63, Jed Schlegel 2-47, Remmington Schneider 1-9, Chris Craft 1-9, Jacob Rielly 1-8. Hurley, Zach Ofstad 1-10.