Football: Ponies gear up for new-look Bears

Gazette photo by Scott Ertle
Stillwater’s Ben Gualtieri hauls in a catch during Friday’s Suburban East Conference victory over Woodbury.

Stillwater has squared off in football against White Bear Lake more than any other team in the state and Friday marks the renewal of this long-standing rivalry at Pony Stadium. In a series that dates back to 1915, the Ponies hold a 52-38-3 edge, including last year’s 17-14 victory. Stillwater has won five straight against the Bears and have won 25 of the last 28 games in the series — including 18 in a row from 1984-1999. The Ponies (1-0 SEC, 1-0) held off Woodbury 20-18 in last week’s season opener while the Bears (1-0, 1-0) also escaped with a 13-10 victory over Roseville.

White Bear Lake managed just seven first downs and allowed more yards (327) than it gained against the Raiders, but Stillwater was also outgained 396-316 by Woodbury. The Bears have abandoned their traditional wishbone offense under first-year coach Ryan Bartlett — who replaces long-time coach Bob Jackson. The Bears are less predictable than in recent history, but installing a new offense is rarely an overnight success. Nick Truen rushed for 114 yards on just 11 carries in the opener. He also caught one pass for 5 yards and racked up 129 return yards so only Stillwater quarterback Nate Ricci (252) delivered more all-purpose yards than Truen last week. Quarterback Trey Anderson completed 6 of 10 passes for 90 yards and one touchdown, with Beau Smit catching two of those passes for 67 yards.

“There’s a lot of change at White Bear Lake, a new coach and almost an opposite approach to offense moving from a wishbone-based option attack to a spread attack,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “White Bear Lake traditionally tends to be a pretty big group and this year they look smaller, but nevertheless, they play very hard and look to be physical. They have a sophomore quarterback who looks like he can become a very good dual threat quarterback for them. Truen, we didn’t see him last year, but he is very effective in the return game and at running back. He’s a big, strong back but also has good speed and he’s a big part of their offense. They’ll throw the ball more than they traditionally have.

Preparing for the Bears shouldn’t be a drastic change from getting ready for Woodbury, which also runs a spread-style offense. In fact, several additional Suburban East Conference teams run some variation of the spread, including Roseville, Park and Forest Lake.

“Obviously they’re making a big transition and their offense is going to get better each and every week because the learning curve is pretty steep,” LaBore said. “They have more than enough to be successful offensively so we have to make sure we line up correctly, read keys and get to the football.”


Ponies tackle cancer

The Stillwater football team is raising money to benefit the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund with a “Tackle Cancer” game on Friday against White Bear Lake. The game also serves as Parents Night for the Ponies.

The team has been requesting donations from students and staff at school this week and if the $2,200 goal — which is approximately $1 per student and staff member — coach Beau LaBore will receive a haircut from senior defensive back and barber-in-waiting Jack Delahunt. Donations from the public will also be accepted at the entrance to Pony Stadium on Friday night.

Tackle Cancer is promoted by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association and LaBore serves on the committee that is helping to promote this initiative. To date, there have been 110 Tackle Cancer games scheduled across the state.

“We think this is something that could make a great impact on a disease that affects virtually every person in every community in our state and country, if not the world,” LaBore said.