Football: Ponies hoping to remain atop SEC standings

The Stillwater football team travels to East Ridge on Friday for a key Suburban East Conference game.

Stillwater will make its first-ever trip to East Ridge High School on Friday for a Suburban East Conference football game with conference championship implications. The injury-plagued Ponies (4-1 SEC, 4-1) handed Mounds View (4-1, 4-1) its first loss of the season in Week 5 to pull into a three-way tie for first place in the standings with White Bear Lake (4-1, 4-1). With the Bears traveling to Mounds View on Friday, Stillwater is hoping to keep pace with whoever prevails in that contest. East Ridge, meanwhile, has been impressive while compiling a 3-2 record this fall, losing only to Cretin-Derham Hall (34-24) in the season opener and a 10-7 loss in Week 3 at Mounds View. The Raptors held off Hastings 34-31 on Friday and edged neighboring rival Woodbury 28-26 the previous week. Stillwater defeated East Ridge 33-6 in the first-ever meeting between these schools a year ago.

East Ridge is guided by freshman quarterback Seth Green, who has completed 41 of 75 passes for 698 yards and seven touchdowns with four interceptions. Junior running back Nick Leach ranks second in the conference in rushing with 110 attempts for 655 yards (6.0 avg.) and seven touchdowns — including 206 yards on 28 carries during last week’s narrow victory over Hastings. Xavier Cole leads the Raptors with nine receptions for 262 yards (29.1 avg.) and three touchdowns.

Trevor Tillett helped guide the Ponies to a 17-14 victory over rival Mounds View on Friday.

“They’re a very good — and they’re a young team — but they’re an experienced team,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “Many of these players have played as sophomores last year and they are physical and play shoulder-pad football. They’re a good enough team that once I walked off the field on Friday night and took a moment to enjoy such a great game against a tough opponent, the attention had to go immediately to East Ridge. There freshman quarterback doesn’t look like a freshman and to this point he hasn’t played like a freshman, either. He throws the ball well, he’s got good speed and they do a nice job of protecting him. They’ve got a deep threat and a big tight end that’s caught plenty of balls for them and a good running back who is a returning starter. They’ve also three offensive linemen who are juniors who are returning starters, so they’ve got good pieces offensively.”

Stillwater has been hit by the injury bug this season and could also be a factor this week, although the Ponies were able to survive last week’s memorable victory with quarterback Nate Ricci on the sideline thanks to a solid effort by junior Trevor Tillett. The Ponies also have injuries on the offensive line, although there’s a chance Derrick Thingvold could return this week. A bigger concern is running back Nick Anderson, who suffered an arm injury late in Friday’s victory after gaining 208 yards on 37 attempts is uncertain for this week. There’s a chance Ricci could return for the Raptors, although the Ponies are less experienced with depth at running back, especially after Jake Olson suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener. Senior Clay Roth and sophomore Zach Knox will be called upon to pick up the slack with Anderson out.

“It’s the players’ opportunity Saturday to enjoy the victory and then on Sunday they have to get hungry again for another week,” LaBore said. “We want them to savor it, but we want them to be hungry for the next opportunity and the players know (East Ridge) is a good team and a worthy opponent. Every week in the SEC is a tough game so we know we have to show up and play well. I don’t think one game can diminish previous success or any one game can make up for previous disappointment, but our players want to be viewed as a great Stillwater team and in order to do that you have to accomplish something like a conference or section championship or winning a state playoff game. Each week remains the same, let’s prepare for our opponent, let’s get a little better as a team and let’s put practice week to work on Friday.”