SLEEPY EYE - Sleepy Eye St. Mary's was already guaranteed a share of the Southern Minnesota Conference championship heading into Friday night's football game against Springfield, but the Knights were determined to make sure they took the title outright.
When St. Mary's quarterback Jordan Anderson connected with Sean Mathiowetz for a 60-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game, it was apparent that the Knights were well on their way.
In a contest that turned into a defensive battle after the opening touchdown, the Knights held on for a 18-0 victory to earn the school's first conference title since 1975.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s receiver John Brandl makes a catch for a long gain during the Knights’ win against Springfield Friday at St. Mary’s.
"Conference champs verses co-conference champs - I mean, who wants to be co?" St. Mary's senior Cody Berkner said. "We came out hard and we took it to 'em. There were a few errors we had, but we came back even harder."
Mathiowetz (four catches for 86 yards) broke three tackles on his way to the end zone on his touchdown reception to give the Knights an early 6-0 lead (two-point conversion attempt failed).
Neither team added another score until Anderson rushed in for a touchdown on an eight-yard keeper with 2:25 remaining in the first half. The Knights' two-point try failed to leave the score at 12-0, where it stayed entering halftime.
The two teams traded turnovers to begin the second half (an interception by Anderson and a fumble recovery by Springfield's Nick Runck) to account for two of the game's seven total turnovers.
The score stayed at 12-0 entering the fourth quarter, with a 15-play drive by the Knights that began with 10:08 remaining in the contest and ended with 2:58 left on the clock all but sealing the victory. The drive ended with a two-yard touchdown scamper by Lucas Heiderscheidt.
St. Mary's junior Nathan Lax recovered a botched snap on a punt attempt by the Tigers on their final possession to seal the victory.
"It was the first championship since 1975, and that's a good accomplishment for this team," St. Mary's head coach Brent Kucera said. "Our defense played unbelievable - it was a great, physical match against Springfield. I give them a lot of credit, they played tough, and it was just a great football game."
Anderson led the Knights both on the ground (20 carries for 154 yards) and through the air (193 passing yards). Mitch Neid added 33 yards along the ground and John Brandl had some key receptions, finishing with 81 yards on three catches.
Carter Krzmarzick (five solo tackles, eights assists, sack), Lax (three solo tackles, eight assists) and Heiderscheidt (three solo tackles, seven assists, one forced fumble) led the St. Mary's defense.
Springfield was led by Jacob Menage (7-for-18 passing for 55 yards), Zach Wells (16 carries for 54 yards), Christopher Kretsch (interception) and Dylan Salonek (fumble recovery).
"Our defense did a nice job in a lot of bad situations I thought tonight, but we need to tackle better," Tigers head coach Paul Dunn said. "Our offensive line took a step back tonight, we need to really work on getting off the ball and blitz pick up. Other that that I thought our kids played hard, they were competitive throughout the game."
Springfield (5-2) will play at Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop on Wednesday.
St. Mary's (7-0) will host Murray County Central Wednesday before opening its playoff campaign the following Tuesday.
"[Entering the playoffs as conference champions] will help us a lot, give us confidence and give us strength through the whole playoffs," Berkner said.