OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Rosemount borrowed a few of Stillwater’s tricks to prevail in Friday’s Class AAAAAA football cross-over game at Pony Stadium.
The Irish (6-4), seeded fourth in Section 3, took advantage of their lone scoring opportunity while keeping Stillwater out of the end zone to earn a 7-6 victory and a spot in this week’s state quarterfinals at the Metrodome. The Ponies (8-2), who were the No. 1 seed in Section 4, ended their season with a one-point loss for the second year in a row.
It was a series of missed opportunities on Friday that plagued Stillwater, which was seeking its first trip to the Metrodome since advancing to the state semifinals in 1996. Rosemount will face face top-seeded Edina (9-1) — the eight state qualifiers were re-seeded for the state quarterfinals — on Thursday.
“Our young men have worked hard and have come together as a team,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “They earned a nice situation to play at home to play to go to state and I don’t necessarily think the better team won tonight. I think that there were some plays that we left out on the field, but when it’s all said and done, it wasn’t from lack of effort or care. Our guys played really hard and they cared a great deal, we just had to find a way to make another couple plays. Our players are disappointed, our coaches are disappointed — it would be great to be coming into tomorrow morning and watching some film and spending the weekend game planning.”
Throughout their Suburban East Conference championship campaign, the Ponies won several games with second-half surges, late rallies and often while getting outgained by their opponents behind a defense that yielded fewer points than the yards allowed might suggest.
Stillwater gave up just 192 yards to the Irish, but was unable to take advantage of its own chances with the ball. Rosemount crossed the Ponies’ 25-yard line just once in the entire game while Stillwater made five trips inside the 25.
“We put in a lot of hard work together and we love each other like brothers, so we’re definitely going to be proud of the conference championship that we got,” said senior linebacker Sam Hodnefield, who racked up nine solo tackles in the game. “We were really resilient, we were always able to come back and fight hard in the second half to be able to come out on top, just not in this one.”
Connor O’Neill blocked a Rosemount punt at midfield with just 11 seconds remaining to set up a last-ditch attempt for the Ponies. Stillwater took over at the Rosemount 40 and Nate Ricci hooked up with Joey Quinn for a six-yard gain to set up a 51-yard field goal attempt by Danny Laudet, although his try fell short as time expired.
“I’m proud of the team for playing four quarters,” LaBore said. “We created a lot of opportunities for ourselves. We didn’t come through on a lot of those opportunities and that’s why we’re all disappointed, but we still kept coming back over and over again.”
There was nothing flashy about the Irish, who controlled the ball for more than nine-and-a-half minutes of the fourth quarter to keep Stillwater’s offense off the field.
Stillwater advanced inside the Rosemount 15 on each of its first three possessions of the game, but had only 32- and 24-yard field goals by Laudet to show for it while jumping out to a 6-0 lead. The Ponies fumbled on a third-and-1 play from the 13 late in the first quarter to stop another promising drive.
“I think the difference was the red zone,” LaBore said. “The red zone has been problematic for us this entire year. We moved the ball and used our special teams and defense to get ourselves in situations where we could get the ball inside the red zone, but didn’t always finish.”
The Irish, meanwhile, scored the only touchdown they needed with 2:33 remaining in the half — taking advantage of a fortuitous bounce in the process. After driving to the Stillwater 8, Rosemount leading rusher Trent Woodcock fumbled near the goal line, but Gabe Ehlers pounced on it in the end zone for what turned out to be the game-winning score.
Woodcock finished with 96 yards on 23 carries — accounting for half of Rosemount’s total offense.
“We knew we needed to stop the run first and foremost,” Hodnefield said. “I thought we did a fairly good job with that.”
Stillwater’s best drive was snuffed out at the goal line in the third quarter. The Ponies spent more than eight minutes driving 67 yards to set up a first-and-goal from the 3. After gaining two yards to the 1 on first down, Ricci was stuffed on consecutive plays and threw incomplete while under heavy pressure on fourth down as the Irish regained possession while holding a one-point advantage.
“There were just a few plays here or there that we could have made,” Hodnefield said. “We just couldn’t punch it in, that might have been the difference.”
“There’s so many examples in the game where it did literally come down to an inch here, an inch there,” LaBore added. “We had opportunities to change the outcome, but you also have to give some credit to Rosemount because they did make plays when they absolutely had to. There were some critical plays in that game that they made so you have to give them some credit as well.”
A short punt on Rosemount’s ensuing drive set the Ponies up with another scoring opportunity, but Laudet’s 40-yard field goal attempt sailed wide with 29 seconds remaining in the third.
“We give up seven points, we expect to win the football game,” LaBore said. “Our defense played very well. (The Irish) leaned on us a couple of series, but we always found a way to get the ball back, outside of the one scoring drive they had. You allow them seven points you expect to win. We had four trips inside the red zone and we came away with six points. You get to a game where you’re playing to go to state and that’s not going to cut it.”
The Irish controlled the ball and the clock for much of the fourth quarter and Stillwater was unable to tap into some of those second-half heroics that provided a spark much of the season.
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t find a way,” LaBore said. “We’ve been in that situation multiple times, just about every game this year, and we’ve found a way to make things happen. We were close a lot, but tonight we just couldn’t find a way to finish.”
Ricci rushed 15 times for 42 yards and completed 5 of 11 passes for 102 yards to lead the Ponies, who also received 66 yards on 18 rushing attempts by sophomore Zach Knox — although just five of his carries came in the second half as Ricci alternated between quarterback and halfback.
It was a sudden end to the season for Stillwater, which had won six straight games and was ranked third in the final state coaches poll.
“This group of guys was up against it eight games with the game on the line all game long and six of those eight times they were able to make it happen against good competition and good opponents,” LaBore said. “I think that’s a testament to who they are, good young men, good character and good work ethic. They care about their teammates, they care about their team, they care about their coaches and they’re going to put it on the line until the last second comes off the clock.
“Despite the fact that this game didn’t go our way, another disappointing one-point loss, that’s not what I’m going to remember from this group. I’m going to remember guys that when we needed grit and we needed to find a way to make something happen, these guys got after it.”
Rosemount also defeated Stillwater 33-10 in the 2006 state quarterfinals, which was the only previous meeting between these teams.
n Connor O’Neill’s blocked punt on Friday tied the school record for blocks in a season with four — the other three were blocked field goal or extra-point attempts. Ryan Bailey in 1998, Andy Staberg in 2005 and Nick Branjord in 2006 also blocked four kicks in a season for the Ponies. Sam Hodnefield also registered three blocks this season and Stillwater’s team total of seven broke the school record six which was held by the 1989, 2005 and 2006 teams.
n There were few surprises in the seedings for this week’s Class AAAAAA state quarterfinals. In addition to Rosemount vs. Edina, the other match-up on Thursday features No. 4 Prior Lake (9-1) vs. No. 5 Lakeville North (9-1). The Friday games feature No. 2 Wayzata (8-1) vs. Eastview (7-3) and No. 3 Eden Prairie (8-2) vs. Minnetonka (5-5).
n It has been a tough postseason for the Suburban East Conference, especially on Friday with four league teams getting eliminated by South Suburban Conference programs. SEC co-champion Mounds View lost to Eastview 36-21, Roseville was blanked by Lakeville North (42-0) and Woodbury lost to Section 3 top seed Prior Lake 34-7.
“Not a great night for the SEC,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said.
In a Class AAAAA section final game, East Ridge lost to St. Thomas Academy 41-14 while Cretin-Derham Hall, White Bear Lake, Hastings, Forest Lake and Park lost in their postseason openers.
Suburban East Conference teams went a combined 5-10 in postseason games this fall and three of those five wins came against fellow league teams. For the first time in the 11-year history of the conference none of its members have qualified for the state tournament. In fact, 2004 and 2011 are the only years the SEC has been represented at state by fewer than at least two teams.
Rosemount 0 7 0 0 — 0
Stillwater 3 3 0 0 — 6
St — FG Danny Laudet 32, 6:03.
St — FG Laudet 24, 10:43.
Ros — Gabe Ehlers fumble recovery (Sam Broback kick) 2:33.
First downs 14 12
Rushes-yards 43-164 37-121
Passing yards 28 121
Total yards 192 242
Comp-Att-Int. 4-8-0 7-15-0
Fumbles/lost 1/2 1/2
Penalties/yards 3/15 1/12
Punts/avg. 6/20.83 3/37.7
Rushing — Ros: Trent Woodcock 23-96, Jackson Erdmann 13-39, Ali Al-Khabib 5-21, Gabe Ehlers 1-7 and Dmitri Williams 1-1; St: Zach Knox 18-66, Nate Ricci 15-42, David Peterson 2-9 and Trevor Tillett 2-4.
Passing (com-att-yds-td-int) — Ros: Jackson Erdmann 4-8-28-0-0; St: Nate Ricci 5-11-102-0-0 and Trevor Tillett 2-4-19-0-0.
Receiving — Ros: Sean Kalinowski 2-17, Jordan Herbranson 1-16 and Dmitri Williams 1-(-5); St: Chris Rick 1-37, Matt Anderson 1-32, Alex Burback 1-20, Zach Knox 2-19 and Joey Quinn 2-13.
Kickoff returns — Ros: Dmitri Williams 2-74 and Ali Al-Khabib 1-11; St: Nate Ricci 1-13 and Aaron Romportl 1-7.
Punt returns — Ros: none; St: Nate Ricci 2-20.
Interceptions — Ros: none; St: none.
Fumble recoveries — Ros: Gabe Ehlers 1-0; St: Jason Kleidosty 1-0.