OAK PARK HEIGHTS — It was an all-inclusive homecoming football game at Stillwater Area High School on Friday as the Ponies dismantled Forest Lake 48-0 in a Suburban East Conference match-up.
The Ponies (3-1 SEC, 3-1) bounced back in impressive fashion from their only loss of the season the previous week. The victory also keeps Stillwater in the running for the conference title with a showdown against nemesis Mounds View (4-0, 4-0) scheduled to visit on Friday.
White Bear Lake (3-1, 3-1) and Stillwater are the only one-loss teams remaining in the conference after Hastings upset Cretin-Derham Hall 34-33 in overtime and Woodbury lost to upstart East Ridge 28-26.
The Ponies took advantage of good field position, strong special teams and four Forest Lake (0-4, 0-4) turnovers while posting its largest margin of victory since a 55-0 victory over Irondale on homecoming in 1995. The 48 points was also the most Stillwater has scored since a 48-19 win over Robbinsdale Armstrong in 2006.
“It’s not easy to get a shutout,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “It took a full team effort to make that happen and it was a good team win.”
The overflow Stillwater crowd seemed to agree.
“It was an awesome crowd,” the coach added. “The student section was fun and it was a great atmosphere for a homecoming football game — and we need another crowd like that next week for Mounds View.”
The outcome was not in doubt after Stillwater’s 20-point opening quarter, but the news wasn’t all rosy as do-it-all quarterback Nate Ricci suffered an ankle injury after his second long punt return of the night — this one 45 yards — late in the first quarter.
Ricci scored a 10-yard touchdown midway through the opening quarter for a 13-0 lead and followed with a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown with two minutes remaining for a 20-0 lead. He remained on the sideline and wore an ice pack on his ankle throughout the second half.
Stillwater was already playing without two starting senior offensive linemen in captain Austin Conery and Danny Buege and tight end Connor Johnston.
“We are a little beat up, including some guys that have played a lot of plays for us,” LaBore said. “We had a couple of issues tonight, most notably Nate, but that’s what happens in the middle of a football season. We have to have some depth and we have to have guys do what they can do to get healthy and we’ll put 11 on the field.”
Junior Trevor Tillett stepped in for Ricci at quarterback and the Ponies continued piling up points against the beleaguered Rangers, who have been outscored 185-40 in four games this season.
Nick Anderson, who led the Ponies with 115 yards on just 13 carries, scored the first of his three touchdowns from 9 yards out for Stillwater’s first score four minutes into the game. Sam Hodnefield set up the touchdown with his interception and 29-yard return down to the Forest Lake 13.
Six of Stillwater’s 10 possessions started in Forest Lake territory and the Rangers did not record a tackle for a loss until three minutes remaining in the game. That tremendous starting field position is the primary reason the Ponies were able to rack up 48 points despite gaining a modest 267 total yards.
Anderson added a 2-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal early in the second quarter for a 27-0 lead.
Stillwater also caught a break late in the first half after missing a 48-yard field goal attempt. The Rangers were trying to run out the clock, but fumbled on third down and Marvin Lerol recovered in Forest Lake territory with 33 seconds remaining.
Tillett then connected with Chris Rick for a 16-yard touchdown pass on the next play to give the Ponies a 34-0 halftime lead.
“We haven’t done a great job of coming out fast, so it was nice to come out fast,” LaBore said. “It was encouraging that we were setting ourselves up on a short field with special teams and solid defense.”
Tillett managed the game effectively while completing 3 of 8 passes for 43 yards and one interception.
“Trevor is a team football player,” LaBore said. “He does a great job with our scout team, but at the same time he knows everything that we want to do on offense for our football team. He does a really nice job in the JV games this year and last year as a sophomore and, as much as it’s disappointing that Nate had to come out of the game, it’s encouraging to see Trevor go out there and get some opportunities and make some nice plays. He stepped in and did a nice job. We saw a lot of encouraging things from Trevor and he definitely deserved to go out there and play well because he’s such a team player and a hard worker.”
Stillwater extended its lead in the third quarter as Anderson broke free for a 59-yard touchdown at 4:13 and Clay Roth scored from 4 yards out two minutes later to give the Ponies a 48-0 lead.
Stillwater’s defense also did its part while limiting the Rangers to just 111 total yards. In fact, Forest Lake crossed midfield on just four of its 12 possessions and never advanced inside of Stillwater’s 25-yard line.
“I think everything worked out pretty well,” Ponies defensive tackle Sabastian Borges said. “We did what we needed to do. The defense came out hitting the pads and we shut down their offense.”
The Rangers averaged just less than one yard per rushing attempt and were sacked for a loss on 18 of their 58 total plays, including 13 more plays that went for no gain. Stillwater also forced a season-high four turnovers.
“We’ve had a few more turnovers on offense and we haven’t turned it over as much as we’ve become accustomed to here on defense, but our defense was very solid,” LaBore said. “We gave up maybe a few more first downs on plays of 8 to 10 yards than we want to see, but we had a lot o tackles for a loss and a lot of plays for very short gains and ultimately forcing the other team to punt.”
Jason Kleidosty led the Ponies with six solo tackles and three assists while Hodnefield added five solo tackles to go along with his first-quarter interception.
Stillwater’s most impressive drive came in the fourth quarter after shuffling in many new players — which isn’t always possible with such a large roster in the competitive SEC. The Ponies chewed up more than eight minutes — running time was in effect — with a 17-play drive that covered 65 yards before turning it over on downs with two minutes remaining.
Eight different players carried the ball on the drive, which also included a 13-yard completion from Tillett to Hunter Lee.
“It was nice to see the guys out there executing and getting the ball in the hands of some guys that don’t get the opportunities in the varsity games,” LaBore said.
With the exception of Ricci’s not-so-insignificant injury, it was an ideal homecoming for the Ponies.
“This week was a blast,” Borges said. “The week is great, but we just say it’s all about the game here at Stillwater and you’ve got to play your hardest and do your best. We love getting the whole team out there and really bringing it to them. We do not substitute, we re-load, that’s the way we play.”
Forest Lake 0 0 0 0 — 0
Stillwater 20 14 14 0 — 48
St — Nick Anderson 9 run (Danny Laudet kick) 8:08.
St — Nate Ricci 10 run (kick failed) 4:39.
St — Ricci 70 punt return (Laudet kick) 2:04.
St — Anderson 2 run (Laudet kick) 10:50.
St — Chris Rick 17 pass from Trevor Tillett (Laudet kick) :29.
St — Anderson 59 run (Laudet kick) 4:13.
St — Clay Roth 4 run (Laudet kick) 1:55.
First downs 11 18
Rushes-yards 40-27 42-228
Passing yards 84 39
Total yards 111 267
Comp-Att-Int. 8-18-1 4-9-1
Fumbles/lost 4/3 1/0
Penalties/yards 3/35 4/30
Punts/avg. 4/30.8 1/33.0
Rushing — FL: Dan Wassman 7-28, Glen Miron 9-24, Russ Wedger 1-4, Trent Rabel 12-3, No. 80 1-1, Riley Olson 1-(-4) and Brandon Rogers 8-(-29); St: Nick Anderson 13-115, Clay Roth 9-38, Nate Ricci 4-35, Steven Nelson 2-11, Michael Drahnak 2-11, Cal Rorabeck 2-7, Judd Lambert 1-3, Trevor Tillett 3-2, Drew Bergstrom 1-2, David Peterson 1-2, Thomas Tran 1-2.
Passing (com-att-yds-td-int) — FL: Trent Rabel 6-13-78-0-1 and Brandon Rogers 2-5-6-0-0; St: Trevor Tillett 3-8-34-1-1 and Nate Ricci 1-1-5-0-0.
Receiving — FL: Dan Wassman 3-48, Peter Jasmer 1-16, Glen Miron 1-12 and Russ Wedger 1-8; St: Chris Rick 1-16, Hunter Lee 1-13 and Joey Quinn 2-10.
Kickoff returns — FL: Russ Wedger 3-36 and Dan Wassman 1-15; St: David Peterson 1-0.
Punt returns — FL: Dan Wassman 1-2; St: Nate Ricci 2-115.
Interceptions — FL: Randy Rehbein 1-17; St: Sam Hodnefield 1-29.
Fumble recoveries — FL: none; St: Will Raedeke 1-0, Marvin Lerol 1-0 and Cody Floen 1-0.