Football: Ponies shooting for fast start in opener

Gazette photos by Stuart Groskreutz
The Stillwater football is hoping for a strong start when it kicks off the season by traveling to Woodbury for a Suburban East Conference game on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.

Two teams considered the most likely contenders to overtake Cretin-Derham Hall and Mounds View will be trying to take that important first step on Friday when Stillwater travels to Woodbury for a Suburban East Conference football game.

The Ponies finished 7-3 a year ago, losing twice to Mounds View and once to Cretin-Derham Hall, while Woodbury finished 5-3 in league play and 6-4 overall after getting eliminated by Eagan 63-29 in the Section 4AAAAA semifinals. Stillwater holds a 31-4 advantage in the all-time series dating back to 1975 and opened last season with a 27-20 victory.

           “We think they’re going to be very good,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore, who coached Woodbury for six seasons before taking the Stillwater job in 2011. “They have no less than six three-year starters and they have some other guys that got some playing time last year so they’re an experienced group. They have a nice balance of size and speed. Offensively, they have the quarterback and running back returning from the best offense in the conference. Defensively, they’ve got three solid veteran defensive linemen, two linebackers and one d-back that started every game last year and some as sophomores so we know that they’re going to be improved defensively.”

Woodbury led the conference in total offense a year ago and returns starting quarterback Sawyer Moon and running back Quran Al-Hameed. Moon competed a league-best 61.7 percent of his passes last fall.

“They have the ability to be explosive on offense so we need to make sure to limit any big plays,” LaBore said. “Their primary strength is quarterback and we can’t give him the same looks play after play. We have to mix it up and try to make it hard on him.”

The Royals allowed nearly 320 yards per game last year, but expected to improve significantly with so many returning players.

“They’re going to be very solid up front, so we need to be patient,” LaBore said. “When it’s all said and done, it’s no different than any other week. We are concerned about Stillwater and we know what we have to do, we know what we want to do and we know how we want to do it. If we just focus on what we do, we’ll find a way to make it happen.”