SPRINGFIELD - On each of the 19 times he carried the ball in Friday night's bitingly cold conditions, Springfield senior Zach Wells had to brace for the stinging tackle that faced him at the end.
However, Wells was able to counteract the cold with the elation of finding the end zone three times to lead the Tigers to a 28-0 victory in Southern Minnesota Conference football action against Sleepy Eye.
"This is my first three-touchdown game - it's really fun, I had a fun game," Wells said.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye quarterback Jake Trebesch (7) tosses a pass over Springield’s Tim Krueger (50) during the fourth quarter Friday in Springfield.
While Wells was pacing Springfield's offense with 111 rushing yards, the Tiger defense held the Indians to just 46 rushing yards, 42 passing yards and four first downs.
"I was really happy with our run defense tonight - I think we gave up one first down in the second half," Springfield head coach Paul Dunn said. "When you shut them down like that, you're hitting on all cylinders."
Wells set the tone of the game right from the first play from scrimmage as he ran for an 11-yard gain.
Tyler Netzke ended the Springfield drive by breaking up a pass attempt on fourth-and-five, but Sleepy Eye was held to a three-and-out on its first possession.
On the Tigers' next drive, Wells broke loose for runs of 30 yards and 10 yards, with Justin Macht also contributing a 13-yard scamper. The drive culminated with Wells finding the end zone from one yard out, with Lance Briard's extra point kick making the score 7-0 in Springfield's favor.
"Right at the beginning, having those open runs, that improved our team and got them jacked up, and that continued throughout the game," Wells said. "We had a high intensity, and we had some fun."
Sleepy Eye's next possession began a turnover trend that continued throughout the rest of the game.
Indians quarterback Jake Trebesch was intercepted by Springfield's Cole Milbrath, but Sleepy Eye's John Mangen gave Sleepy Eye back the ball when he recovered a fumble three plays later. The Tigers got the ball back a mere four plays later when Jacob Menage reeled in an interception.
In total the Tigers forced four turnovers - all interceptions - and the Indians responded by forcing four turnovers of their own, which were all fumble recoveries.
After Menage's interception - which put the Tigers at the Sleepy Eye 38 yard line - Menage scored on a five-yard quarterback keeper play with 22 seconds remaining in the first quarter (Briard extra point good).
Springfield had only two offensive series in the second quarter, the first ending in a fumble that was recovered by the Indians' Saul Ibarra and the second with a missed field goal by Briard from 24 yards out. Sleepy Eye punted on its first two second-quarter possessions and was held at its own 30 yard line when halftime arrived.
Wells produced his second touchdown run on a one-yard splash with 5:09 left in the third quarter (Briard extra point good) and achieved his third touchdown on a two-yard run with 37 seconds remaining in the third quarter (Briard extra point good).
"He's such a good slashing runner at the goal line, he's got a nose for it and he does a real nice job getting those one or two yards," Dunn said. "He runs very low to the ground, he's hard to tackle."
The main action in the fourth quarter was turnover related, with a stretch of turnovers on three-straight plays midway through the quarter.
Sleepy Eye's Austin Rusch began the stretch with a fumble recovery, but Trebesch was picked off by Christopher Kretsch on the very next play. Netzke gave the Indians back possession with a fumble recovery on the following play.
Five plays later Springfield's Cooper Scheffler intercepted Trebesch at the Tigers' five yard line for the final turnover of the game.
"We had some opportunities, we created some turnovers on defense - which was a positive for us, I'm very pleased with that," Sleepy Eye head coach Cory Haala said. "At times we looked pretty good on defense. Offensively we obviously had a difficult time managing consistently trying to get first downs, that was difficult for us."
The Springfield defense was led by Briard, who had four solo tackles, nine assists, two sacks and one batted ball that was close to being intercepted. Cody Graff had two sacks, one solo tackle and six assists and Carter Erickson added two solo tackles and six assists.
Sleepy Eye (1-5) will look to rebound when it hosts Cedar Mountain/Comfrey on Friday.
"We've just got to keep plugging away," Haala said. "We're hopeful we're going to get some guys healthy that will get us a little more depth. We'll try to be healthy by the end of the season, and you never know what can happen. Things can change in a hurry, that's what's great about the game of football."
Springfield (5-1) will travel to play Sleepy Eye St. Mary's (5-0) on Friday in a match-up that may decide the conference title. Dunn is hoping that his team's fumble habit against Sleepy Eye will be ancient history by then.
"That's something we definitely need to clean up for next week," Dunn said. "St. Mary's is a good ball club, it will be a great ball game. We're excited for the opportunity to go over there and play for the conference championship and all of that stuff. It will be two good football teams that meet on the field and hopefully we can compete at the end."