The road to a state tournament berth gets more difficult each week and the Ponies anticipate a tougher battle on Friday while hosting Rosemount in a Class AAAAAA section cross-over game at Stillwater Area High School. The Ponies (8-1) are coming off a 41-13 victory over North St. Paul in the Section 4AAAAAA quarterfinals on Friday while Rosemount (5-4) dispatched Lakeville South 20-7 in a Section 3AAAAAA quarterfinal. The Irish dismantled Stillwater in their only previous meeting, a 33-10 victory in the 2006 large-school state quarterfinals.
Rosemount started slowly this season while losing three of its first four games, but has won five of its last five. The Irish moved sophomore Jackson Erdmann into the starting lineup at quarterback and that — along with the emergence of several younger players — has sparked Rosemount’s strong second half of the season. In five games, Erdman has completed 30 of 46 passes for 382 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. Running back Ali Al-Khatib leads the Rosemount rushing attack with 82 attempts for 422 yards and six touchdowns. Erdmann completed 7 of 9 passes for 92 yards in Friday’s victory over the Cougars while Al-Khatib gained 157 yards on just 16 attempts (9.8).
“They’re a good football team in a good conference and they played a good schedule. They had Eden Prairie for a nonconference game, so they’ve seen good competition,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “They have been in a lot of close games and they’ve won some of those games and they’ve lost some of those close games. It appears they have improved over the season and they have found a way to win more of those games in the second half of the season. Offensively, they’re similar to us where they have been willing to grind it out and they’re much more likely to be grinding it out on the ground. Defensively, they’re like us in the sense that they’re well coached and they get off blocks and pursue to the football very well. Whenever you boil down the 32 biggest schools in the state down to 16 you know you’re going to play a real strong opponent with a lot on the line.”
The Irish played in the Prep Bowl just two years ago — losing to Wayzata 31-14 — and also qualified for state in 2008.
“Rosemount has been to the Dome three times since 2006 so we know they have high expectations for this team,” LaBore said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been in the Dome, but this has been a part of our plan from Day 1 and I know our guys will come out and play their best game of the year. It will be a physical game and we’re looking forward to it.”
Paint the stadium red for final home game
Capitalizing on the popularity of the “Parting of the Red Sea” performance by the Stillwater Area High School students on homecoming, the Ponies Touchdown Club with help from Eckberg Lammers Law Firm is passing out free red bandanas to the first 400 student fans through the gate for Friday’s game. The Ponies are hoping to create a “Red Sea” of fans for the section cross-over game against Rosemount, which begins at 7 p.m. All fans are encouraged to join the students by wearing red in a show of support.
“We’ve been outstanding at home — I think we’re 18-2 over the last four years — so our football team has played great at home,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “We are aided by having a community that takes pride in our program and a student body that is dedicated and creative and just makes the atmosphere fun. We need a home field advantage, so now more than ever we need that huge crowd and we need them to get behind us and help us.”
Also on Friday, fans are discouraged from bringing bags and/or backpacks into the game. School officials and police officers will be searching bags, purses and backpacks prior to admission. In addition, The Ponies Touchdown Club exact change gate will not be available on Friday. Fans are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance at the SAHS Activities Office to avoid waiting in line on Friday night. Pre-sale tickets, which are $8 for adults and $6 for students, will be sold on Thursday from 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.