OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Big plays made up for a sluggish start and costly miscues on Friday as Stillwater used a 21-point fourth quarter to surge past White Bear Lake 28-19 in a Suburban East Conference football game at Pony Stadium.
Stillwater (2-0 SEC, 2-0) joins Mounds View, a 17-16 winner over Cretin-Derham Hall on Friday, as the only remaining unbeaten conference teams after dispatching its most common rival in a series that dates back to 1915. The Ponies improved to 53-38-3 against White Bear Lake all-time, but the latest victory did not come without some anxious moments.
“This is the oldest rivalry in Minnesota so we expect a dogfight no matter what,” Stillwater coach Beau LaBore said. “You throw records and anything else out the window.”
The Ponies outgained White Bear Lake 342-239 in the game, but still trailed 13-7 going into the fourth quarter thanks to untimely penalties, two turnovers and a bad snap on a punt.
White Bear Lake broke a 7-all tie when sophomore quarterback Trey Anderson scampered 7 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with seven seconds remaining in the third quarter for a 13-7 lead after the extra point kick sailed wide.
Stillwater answered quickly in the opening minute of the fourth as Nick Anderson broke free off the left side and raced 50 yards for the first of his two touchdowns for a 14-13 lead after Danny Laudet drilled the extra-point kick.
The Ponies have converted six of seven PATs this season while their two opponents are a combined one for six (three of which were failed two-point conversions).
“They’re very important, from the snap to the hold, and we have a great kicker in Danny,” senior quarterback Nate Ricci said. “The protection up front was really good and there wasn’t anybody getting in who was even close to blocking the kicks, so that was a very big part of the game.”
After taking the lead, Stillwater defensive back Connor O’Neill broke up an apparent completion on third down as White Bear Lake went three-and-out on its next possession. From there, Stillwater needed just two plays to extend its lead when quarterback Nate Ricci faked a handoff to Anderson and cut up the middle for a 53-yard touchdown for a 21-13 advantage.
It was the third touchdown of 50 or more yards this season for the Ponies, who have scored just once from inside 14 yards.
“I like the idea of us having big-play potential,” LaBore said, admitting he would prefer it not completely take the place of Stillwater’s power running game.
Ricci carried just twice during a lackluster first half for the Ponies, but spreading the field helped make the difference after halftime.
“We needed a change of pace so spreading things out helped us, but changing a formation is not going to cut it in big games,” LaBore said. “Regardless of the formation, regardless of the play, we’ve got to be consistent and we’ve got to execute and we cannot have turnovers and penalties stopping drives. It’s not going to work for a power running football team, which is what we pride ourselves on.”
White Bear Lake did not go away and had a chance to tie the game after running back Nick Truen’s 11-yard touchdown with 5:02 remaining. An illegal procedure penalty moved the Bears back for the two-point conversion attempt and the ensuing pass fell incomplete to help Stillwater maintain a 21-19 lead.
The Ponies sealed the victory with an 11-play drive covering 72 yards after Anderson charged through the middle of the line for a 3-yard touchdown and a 28-19 lead with just 1:12 remaining. Anderson ran for 40 yards on the first play of the series and Ricci was also effective while completing passes to extend the drive. Ben Gualtieri made a 7-yard catch on fourth-and-4 and Ricci also found Chris Rick for 15 yards to help erase a third-and-17 and help set up Anderson’s eventual game-clinching score.
Anderson finished 27 carries for 154 yards while Ricci added 106 yards on 10 attempts and also completed 10 of 13 passes for 102 yards and one touchdown.
It wasn’t a flawless game for Ricci, who fumbled a snap in White Bear Lake territory and was also intercepted late in the first half, but the senior has been a more accurate passer this season to go along with being one of the most electric runners in the league.
“I definitely feel more comfortable reading defenses and finding the right receivers and making the right reads and stuff,” Ricci said. “It was something I worked on a lot during the summer. I thought that was kind of a weak spot last year so I wanted to work on that.”
A stronger second half for the Ponies helped overshadow a lackluster start for the second week in a row. After Stillwater fumbled on third-and-1 early in the game, White Bear Lake took over and drove 63 yards in 16 plays before missing a 32-yard field goal attempt, chewing up more than seven minutes off the clock.
Stillwater assisted the Bears with three penalties that provided first downs on the drive, including an offsides penalty on third down, a roughing the punter penalty and a facemask — serving as an omen for the Ponies, who were assessed 83 yards in penalties in the game.
“We were our own worst enemies,” LaBore said. “Offensively, defensively, we came out flat. It’s disappointing to see we came out flat two weeks in a row in the first quarter. It’s encouraging that we’ve played as well as we have in the second half, but if this team is going to go where they want to go we have to put four quarters together.
“We did some things that were uncharacteristic of Stillwater football. We had two turnovers and a punt that was basically a turnover, so three of them, and we were heavily penalized and that’s just not who we are. We have done some things in practice to really shore up some of those things so it’s a little bit of an anomaly for us to see that, but we’re going to accept it and it’s something we’re going to focus on and we’re going to ramp up the expectations even more Monday through Thursday. We can’t give up penalties in critical points of the game. It’s not who we are and it’s unacceptable.”
One of the few first-half highlights on offense came from newcomer Joey Quinn, whose running one-handed catch down the right sideline for 22 yards helped set up the opening touchdown. Stillwater’s only third down on the 11-play drive was when Quinn hauled in a 14-yard pass from Ricci for the touchdown with 9:57 remaining in the second quarter.
Quinn, a senior who finished with four catches for 50 yards, has been a pleasant addition after not playing football the past few years.
“He’s a basketball player and he’s got like a 40-inch vertical so he was up there on my list of guys we wanted to come out and he’s a big help to the team and a great player,” said Ricci, who said the recruiting efforts weren’t that difficult. “He wanted to be a part of this and we were glad to have him.”
White Bear Lake answered Stillwater’s touchdown with an eight-play drive covering 59 yards when Beau Smit turned a third-and-7 play into a 27-yard touchdown reception to even the score at 7-all.
Stillwater’s defense helped contain the Bears, who passed for more than twice as many yards (173) as they gained on the ground (66) — which is a drastic change from the past two decades under previous coach Bob Jackson and their trademark wishbone attack.
First-year coach Ryan Bartlett has incorporated a spread offense and Trey Anderson was efficient while completing 21 of 33 passes. Smit caught 10 of those passes for 108 yards.
Sam Hodnefield led a balanced effort defensively for the Ponies with eight solo tackles and two assists while Sebastian Borges made six solo stops.
White Bear Lake 0 7 6 6 — 19
Stillwater 0 7 0 21 — 28
St — Joey Quinn 14 pass from Nate Ricci (Danny Laudet kick) 9:57.
WBL — Beau Smit 27 pass from Trey Anderson (Michael Maw kick) 6:43.
WBL — T. Anderson 10 run (kick failed) :07.
St — Nick Anderson 50 run (Laudet kick) 11:18.
St — Nate Ricci 53 run (Laudet kick) 9:05.
WBL — Nick Truen 11 run (pass failed) 5:02.
St — N. Anderson 3 run (Laudet kick) 1:12.
First downs 16 15
Rushes-yards 32-66 39-240
Passing yards 173 102
Total yards 239 342
Comp-Att-Int. 21-33-1 10-13-1
Fumbles/lost 0/0 1/1
Penalties/yards 4/25 7/83
Punts/avg. 3/34.7 NA
Rushing — WBL: Nick Truen 19-64 and Trey Anderson 13-2; St: Nick Anderson 27-154, Nate Ricci 10-106, Danny Laudet 1-(-20) and team 1-0.
Passing (com-att-yds-td-int) — WBL: Trey Anderson 21-33-173-1-1; St: Nate Ricci 10-13-102-1-1.
Receiving — WBL: Beau Smit 10-108, Bernard Vinson 5-27, Nick Truen 3-24, Nick Timmons 2-8 and Dacotah Anderson 1-2; St: Joey Quinn 4-50, Chris Rick 2-35, David Peterson 1-8, Ben Gualtieri 1-7, Matt Anderson 1-2 and Alex Burback 1-0.
Interceptions — WBL: Cody Braeger 1-0; St: Matt Ogren 1-4.
Fumble recoveries — WBL: Jordan Buie 1-0; St: none.