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Lutheran North quarterback Brian Brown is just a sophomore, but he played like a senior when the stakes were at their highest.

Brown used his arm and his legs to keep a stout Lathrop defense off balance in a Class 2 state semifinal at Bayless High on Saturday afternoon, and a stingy Crusaders defense did the rest in a 38-24 victory.

“They have an excellent defense and they play very hard,” said North coach Carl Reed, who told reporters that players were not available to talk to the media due to a violation of team rules earlier this season. “There were some things that we felt that we can take advantage of and they did it. But they showed you how great of a program they are because they made some adjustments and took some of those things away in the second half.”

Lutheran North (14-0) will play Ava (14-0), which beat Clark County 20-14 in overtime in the other semifinal, for the state championship at 3 p.m. Friday at Faurot Field in Columbia.

Brown helped give North a firm grasp on the game with two touchdown drives in the second quarter.

After Lathrop (13-1) appeared to get back in it with a 60-yard touchdown catch by Tyler Paul to cut North’s lead to six, Brown and the Crusaders answered with a seven-play, 55 yard drive. Brown finished it by staring down a Mules blitz on fourth down before finding Kevon Jacobs for a 13-yard touchdown pass to extend North’s lead to 24-10 with 2 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first half.

Brown wasn’t done after the Crusaders forced Lathrop to turn it over on a three-and-out. This time he broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run to extend it to 31-10 with 42 seconds left in the half.

“It was huge for us,” Reed said. “We needed a big play going into the half because we had lost it a little bit.”

Lathrop’s defense entered the contest giving up just nine points a game with a season-high of 28. North matched that season high plus-three at the break.

“They were rubbing us,” Lathrop coach Chris Holt said. “They had some rub routes and getting kids open and we missed tackles.”

Two blocked punts gave Lathrop a pair of drives starting inside the Crusaders’ 5 in the second half. North stuffed the Mules on the first attempt in a scoreless third quarter, but Lathrop converted after the second blocked punt gave it the ball on the North two-inch line. Blake Gordon ran in the quarterback keeper to cut the deficit to 31-17 early in the fourth quarter.

North’s defense held Lathrop’s offense to half of its season average of points. Chris Childs led the Crusaders with 10 tackles and three of Travion Ford’s six stops were sacks.

“Our defense has been carrying us all season,” Reed said. “We have an excellent defense and we put them in some very bad spots today, but they rose to the occasion and got it done.”

North put the game away with a Brown 37-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Smith midway through the fourth.

“They had started committing to the run,” Reed said. “We saw them move some safeties around and we thought it was a play we could go to.”

Paul capped the scoring with a 35-yard touchdown run for the Mules.

Brown went 13 for 20 passing for 163 yards and three touchdowns for North and Smith caught nine balls for 121 yards. Brown rushed for another 108 yard on 12 carries and a score while Jalen Head ran for 69 yards and a touchdown.

Paul rushed for 103 yards on 15 carries for Lathrop.

North took the lead for good on its first possession and added another TD on its ensuing drive. Brown connected with Antonio Doyle for a 17-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive and Head scored on an 8-yard run to pump the advantage to 16-0 midway through the first quarter.

Lathrop responded with a 39-yard field goal and Paul’s long catch to cut it to 16-10.

It was the first win for North in three consecutive trips to the semifinal round. The Crusaders are a win away from their sixth state championship but first since 1999.

“We’ve got to execute,” Reed said. “We’ve got to have a great week of practice and stay focused.”

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