Thole: Ponies make 6A debut against North St. Paul

Contributed photo
Former Ponies coaches and players were on hand to watch Stillwater grad and Northwestern senior defensive lineman Brian Arnfelt play against the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 13. This distinguished group included, from left, Dick Klein, Scott Hoffman, Clayton Vick, Arnfelt, Tom Rasmussen and Mike Pavlovich.

The Ponies of coach Beau LaBore will get a taste of the new 32-team Class AAAAAA gridiron tournament when they host North St. Paul on Friday Night.

Stillwater (7-1) shared the Suburban East Conference title with Mounds View (7-1) after nipping Hastings (3-6) 21-14 last week. The Big Red Ponies have exhibited an offense all season that manages to score enough points (24.9) to win and a bend-but-don’t-break defense that yields 305 yards, but only 16.5 points per game.

Last week, the good guys were in a 6-6 struggle midway through the final quarter with Hastings until Grant Moden picked off an Alex Weise pass and made like Percy Harvin with a nifty 31-yard touchdown return. Stuff like this has been script for the “The Return of the Cardiac Kids,” currently playing at a stadium near you.

Some of the characters in this drama include quarterback Nate Ricci, who despite a bad wheel has amassed 1,528 all-purpose yards and scored seven touchdowns, including three punt returns and one kick-off return. Ricci has completed 49 passes in 91 attempts for 563 yards and rushed 79 times for 364 yards.

The good guys lost their top rusher of two years when all-conference running back Nick Anderson sustained a season-ending injury after leading the Ponies to a 17-14 victory over Mounds View. Top receivers include newcomer Joey Quinn (17 catches for 255 yards) and Chris Rick (16-227).

You had to be impressed at Hastings when the Ponies drove 70 yards in less than three minutes on 11 straight running plays by workhorse Zach Knox to avoid the upset bug in the regular season finale.

Let’s not forget the jumbos, who average better than 255 pounds per man. Guys like Austin Conery, Oliver O’Keefe, Derrick Thingvold, Ryan Peltier — whose father Louis was the center on my 1971 Ponies team — Nick Brevitz, Danny Buege, John Billingsley, Peter Palacek and Anders Sandstrom.

I’m not saying that each guy weighs over 255 pounds, but collectively they do.

One of LaBore’s best moves when he arrived on the scene was retaining defensive coordinator Mark Elmer from the Scott Hoffman regime (he also coached several years with me).

The locals have hard-hitting linebackers in Cody Floen, Sam Hodnefield, Jason Kleidosty and Matt Ogren, a characteristic of recent SAHS defenses — fans haven’t forgotten the likes of Jeremy Gillard, Zach Krenz and record-setting Andrew Rose.

Manning the defensive trenches are Marvin Lerol, a standout who is still on the injury list, Sebastian Borges, Mitch Schertz, Zach Jelinek, Will Raedeke, Alex Carr and Derrick Thingvold on occasion. The 4-4-3 defense has a starting secondary of Aaron Romportl, Connor O’Neill, Moden and sometimes Ricci. You will also see firebrand special teams guy Lowell Schmoeckel (5-foot-8, 140 pounds) making tackles.

Tomorrow night our beloved Ponies host North St. Paul (1-7) in the section quarterfinals with kick-off at 7 p.m. The Polars run a triple-option veer offense and, according to coaches LaBore and Elmer, they have speedy backs that will require our attention.

Stillwater leads the series 39-15-2 with the Ponies winning the last meeting 21-0 in 2010 and the first 45-0 in 1927. I think the Ponies will prevail vs. the Polars, but I don’t mention scores in playoff games — the heck with that, Ponies 28-7.

Remember that everything starts over during the playoff season. My football fan week improved with the Ponies bucking the Raiders 21-14, the Vikings baking the Cardinals 21-14, the Bison stampeding the USD Coyotes 58-0, but the Gophers were beheaded by Paul Bunyan’s Axe 38-13 after paying 800,000 clams not to play North Carolina, even after the Tar Heels lost to Duke on Saturday — another revolting development.


In the huddle

Ponies assistant football coach Bryan Keister is back on the job after complaining of chest pains during the Hastings game last week. He was checked out after spending two days in the hospital. Keister was a two-time all-conference tackle at SAHS and the University of St. Thomas…. Coach Scott Christensen’s boys’ cross country team ran roughshod over the competition to win its 10th conference title in the last dozen years. Wayde Hall continued his winning ways with a 15:15 clocking, Eric Colvin (15:30) placed third, Sean Bjork (16:09) was eighth, Bailey Hesse-Withroe (16:13) ninth and Eli Krahn (16:18) 11th, giving the locals 32 points. Mounds View was next with 91 points and White Bear Lake was third with 98, followed by Cretin (116), Roseville (158), Woodbury (158), Forest Lake (165), East Ridge (185), Hastings (229) and Park (279)…. East Ridge won the girls’ conference title with 50 points as the girls of coach Dawn Podolske placed sixth with 154 points. Abby Lange placed 12th for the locals in a time of 14:59 while Maria Morley was 22nd, Lauren Lampright 40th, Ari Krenz 44th, Claire Patterson 45th and Hailey Beech nipping at Patterson’s heals in the 46th spot. Both teams competed at the Section 4AA meet at the U of M yesterday…. The Ponies girls’ swim team placed third at the True Team state meet on Saturday at the U of M Aquatic Center. Sophia Bisch won the 200 individual medley and Claire Rutscher took the gold in the 100 free and 100 backstroke. Bisch was

James Menzies (10), who notched an assist as part of a balanced performance against East Ridge in the section finals, and the Ponies travel to St. Cloud State University where they will face Owatonna in tonight’s state quarterfinals.

second in the 100 breastroke and Kylie Burgess was third in the 500 free. Tonka won the meet and Wayzata was the runner-up…. Psst: A little birdie tells me that Tonka’s football coach Dave Nelson will retire at the end of the season. Nelson coached Blaine to the state title in 1988 and Tonka to the crown in 2004. He had runner-up finishes at Blaine in 1996, 1997 and 2001…. All cars will be headed to St. Cloud for tonight’s soccer match-up in the state quarterfinals when our beloved Ponies (14-1-4) take on Owatonna (13-3-2)…. finis


Today’s rumination #589

You are young at any age if you are planning for tomorrow.

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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]