Thole: Ponies overcome obstacles to knock off East Ridge

Gazette file photos
Stillwater’s Nate Ricci gallops to the end zone for the second of his special teams touchdowns in the first quarter of Friday’s victory at East Ridge.

I was celebrating homecoming with my wife Karen at our alma mater North Dakota State University in Fargo and missed the Ponies’ grid game at East Ridge on Friday night.

We did manage to get a play-by-play account from our son Eric Thole via cell phone. The weather was bad in both locations.

We couldn’t believe our ears — how can a team that manages a scant 127 yards of total offense and surrenders 341 yards beat anyone? I guess the answer must be with special teams in that 24-21 thriller.

Apparently this Nate Ricci guy acted like Indiana Jones and returned a kick-off 93 yards and a punt return 75 yards while crossing the alumni stripes both times to give the Big Red Ponies a 14-donut lead right out of the gate.

Then it became a case of the good guys moving the ball by centimeters and not always in the right direction. Ricci hit sophomore Matt Anderson with a 3-yard TD pass, giving the Big Red a 21-14 lead at the break. This was no easy task as the Raptors were rampaging with Nick Leach, who scored both touchdowns and would eventually rack up 159 rushing yards.

Before I go on, let me say that anytime you’re offense goes kaput your team must reach down and find something and I believe the Ponies did. The scenario goes like this: your top running back Nick Anderson is out, you are also forced to make changes in the jumbo section, you are on the road playing a good team on a crummy night. A lot of things could and did go wrong, but when the final ballot was cast it resulted in a 24-21 win.

The second-half scoring was limited to a 30-yard field goal into a stiff wind by Danny Laudet in the third quarter and a 4-yard run by Raptor Austin Kamrath in the fourth.

I have to believe that the defense led by Cody Floen and Jason Kleidosty, who finished with 11 and 10 solo tackles, contributed more than its fair share to the cause. The Ponies average 256 yards per game while allowing 301, but opponents are finding out that Stillwater is a team you can play close, but is hard to beat.

The prep football Thole Poll: 1. Eden Prairie (6-0); 2. Edina (6-1); 3. Wayzata (4-1); 4. Osseo (4-2); 5. Totino-Grace (6-0); 6. Stillwater (5-1); 7. Mounds View (5-1); 8. Maple Grove (6-0); 9. Moorhead (6-0); 10, tie, Cretin (4-2), Prior Lake (5-1) and Lakeville North (5-1).

I had a decent week as a football fan as the Ponies wrapped up the Raptors 24-21, the Bison plucked the Penguins of Youngstown State 48-7, the Gophers had a good-bye week and the Vikings tanked the Titans 30-7.


Johnson’s farewell tour continues

The storied career of soccer coach Phil Johnson (448-155-64) will come to an end this fall, but another conference title will not be added to his resume, however.

Coach Phil Johnson plans to retire from coaching the Stillwater boys’ soccer team after the season.

His team beat White Bear Lake 2-zip last week to bring its conference record to 7-0-2, but Mounds View at 8-1-0 wins the league title by one point because three points are awarded for a win and one for a tie. Ouch! It should be a tie for the title in my book.

The Ponies take their 11-1-4 overall record into Section 4AA competition this week. Johnson has taken his Ponies futballers to state 15 times during his 32 years as mentor, including back-to-back state titles in 1995 and 1996.

Considering the Ponies have won eight Suburban East Conference titles in the 11-year history of the group, it’s a shame that 8-1 and 7-0-2 records don’t equate. I kind of like those shootouts to eliminate ties.

Anyway, Johnson and company kick off the postseason by hosting St. Paul Central tonight.

Here’s hoping the Phil Johnson Farewell Tour doesn’t end until Nov. 1 at the Metrodome.


Arnfelt returns to Gopher State Saturday

Former Ponies standout Brian Arnfelt, a captain for the Northwestern football team, will lead the 5-1 Wildcats against the Gophers on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Arnfelt plays defensive tackle at 6-foot-5, 305 pounds and wears jersey No. 91.


In the huddle

At last count, I discovered that no less than 15 former SAHS girls’ soccer players are cavorting on collegiate pitches this fall. In checking out the co-eds, we find Allie Reinke is a freshman midfielder for the Golden Gophers. Estee Berg and Amanda Cartony play for Gustavus and Molly Allen is on the Augsburg squad. Other MIAC players include Alli O’Brien and Sarah de St. Aubin at St. Ben’s. Maureen Stormont cut a swath at UM-Duluth and is among the Bulldogs’ top scorers as a sophomore. The Hanzlik sisters Kenzie and Kate play for the Huskies at St. Cloud State. Freshman Katie Holder plays for Army on the banks of the Hudson and Emily Olson plays for Bemidji State. Some, like Amanda Hakala and Chelsea Dornfeld, crossed the river to play for UW-Eau Claire, as did Alyssa Manor at UW-River Falls. Freshman Kierra Eicher plays for the Dakota County Technical College team…. How many times has one heard, from coaches and parents alike, that “this group or team has great potential?” Webster’s Dictionary defines potential as “something that can develop, or may become actual: existing in possibility only.” Potential by itself can be a meaningless attribute because of all the “ifs” involved. Like any other trait, potential must be groomed and nurtured to bring it to full bloom…. The Minnesota prep football scene lost a fine coach with the passing of Roger Lipelt last month. Roger built the program at Wayzata and we scrimmaged the Trojans for 17 years and played them in the state tournament in our last state title year of 1995. The Trojans were always tough and our association made both teams better. After retiring at Wayzata, Lipelt started the football program at Providence Academy. Cancer claimed a fine man and a dear friend after a long battle…. Football is the consummate team sport involving 22 players, 11 on offense and 11 on defense. Each position requires the execution of precise assignments that ultimately determine the success or failure for the entire team. Each play, whether on offense or defense, dictates a specific responsibility for every member of the team. Any one of the 11 team members not carrying out or accomplishing his assignment will ultimately lead to undesirable results. The game is as unique as the young men who play it and the people who fill the stadiums to watch it…. We had a nice visit with a fellow NDSU Hall of Famer Bob Roy ’43, formerly of Bayport, at a banquet in Fargo on Friday. Roy was a star three-sport athlete for the Ponies who currently resides in Sun City Center, Fla. He is 86 years young…. Don’t tread on me…. finis


Today’s rumination #587

Others will follow your footsteps more readily than your advice.

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George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Thursdays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: [email protected]