- Associated Press - Thursday, November 17, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - St. Croix Central’s physical triple-option attack was all it needed to bring home a state championship.

The Panthers ran 70 times for 371 yards and attempted just one pass in a 49-28 victory over River Valley in the WIAA Division 4 championship Thursday.

It is the second state title for the Panthers, who won the Division 5 championship in 1988.

“I’m just in shock,” St. Croix Central coach Tony DiSalvo said. “I really am. I would have never thought this a few weeks ago. It is what it is, and I give these kids a lot of credit.

“This is special. Thirty-one years of coaching and I never thought in a million years we would ever get down here, and we did. It has been quite a run.”

St. Croix Central (11-3) scored on each of its three first-half possessions to take a 21-0 lead at halftime.

“I’m proud of the way we played on both sides of the ball,” DiSalvo said. “We were on all cylinders offensively tonight and that was awesome to see.”

Ryan Larson ran 41 times for 158 yards and tied a WIAA state championship game record with four touchdowns.

In addition to Larson’s big night, Cole Refsnider carried the ball 15 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Collin Nelson gained 56 yards on 11 carries.

“It was very difficult,” River Valley quarterback-defensive back Elijah Alt said of the triple-option. “They are a physical team. They were a little bigger and that didn’t help. They were just physical.”

River Valley (10-3) was making its first appearance in a state championship game.

Alt threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 57 yards and a score.

His 94-yard touchdown pass to Derek Wedige in the fourth quarter was the longest passing play in a WIAA Division 4 state championship game.

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