The Stillwater football team celebrated its Suburban East Conference championship season as part of its postseason awards banquet on Monday night at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Stillwater.
The Ponies finished the season with an 8-2 record, including 7-1 to tie Mounds View for the Suburban East Conference championship, which is the team’s third conference title in the last four years. Stillwater was eventually eliminated by Rosemount 7-6 in a Class AAAAAA cross-over game.
Versatile senior Nate Ricci left his mark on the Stillwater record book and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row — joining Ponies legends Gregg Thompson (1976 and 1977) and Aaron Runk (1994 and 1995) as the only two-time MVPs in team history.
Ricci, who was also named MVP-Offense, landed a spot on the Star Tribune All-Metro Second Team, the All-Pioneer Press Team, the KARE 11 All-Metro Team and the Associated Press All-State First Team.
A dangerous special teams player who returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns this season, Ricci primarily played quarterback but also lined up at tailback and receiver — in addition to spot duty in the defensive secondary. His three punt return touchdowns in a season — and four in his career — are both school records and his season (26.5 avg.-371 yards) and career (20.5-575) punt return averages and totals are also the best in school history.
“In a program that has had 111 seasons over 118 years, Nate is one of the program’s most decorated players,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said.
Ricci was also named the SEC’s Most Valuable Offensive Player and joined on the all-conference squad by teammates Nick Anderson, Sebastian Borges, Cody Floen, Sam Hodnefield, Danny Laudet, Aaron Romportl and Derrick Thingvold.
Alex Burback, Austin Conery, Jason Kleidosty, Marvin Lerol, Grant Moden, Matt Ogren, Connor O’Neill and Joe Quinn received honorable mention all-conference recognition.
Led by O’Neill, who tied a school record with four blocked kicks this season, the Ponies broke the team mark for blocks in a season with seven (Sam Hodnefield had the other three, which is tied for fifth most in a season). Hodnefield was also voted MVP-Defense by his teammates.
Stillwater also set a team record when it ran 78 plays in the 21-14 conference title clinching victory over Hastings — a game which saw sophomore running back Zach Knox rack up a school record 48 carries for 280 yards, which places him second on the team’s single-game list behind only Pat Juhl, who rushed 17 times for 290 yards and four touchdowns against Mariner in 1979.
Laudet, a senior competing in football for the first time, was an honorable mention all-state selection by the Associated Press and joined Hodnefield as an honorable mention pick for the All-Pioneer Press Team. Laudet tied a school record with 11 kicking points in a game and his 38.4 yards per punt average ranks fifth all-time for a single season and No. 1 on the career list (minimum 25 punts).
Ricci also finished high on Stillwater’s all-time lists for total offense (7th, 2,536 yards), all-purpose yards (3rd, 3,115 yards), punt return yards in a game (3rd, 115), longest punt return (5th, 75 yards), kick return yards in a season (5th, 276) and kick return average in a career (4th, 26.8).
Several additional awards were handed on out Monday, including the Pete Miller Jr. Memorial Award to Conery as the team’s top lineman and the Kearney Memorial Award to Ricci for his outstanding career achievements.
Mark Houle (defense) and Judd Lambert (offense) were named the team’s Scout Player(s) of the Year while O’Neill (defense) and Burback (offense) were named the Most Improved Player(s).
Ryan Peltier garnered the Coaches Award while Zach Jelinek, who endured an injury-plagued season, was named Mr. Weight Room. Floen was voted a Big Red Hitter Award by his teammates and Ricci added to his long list of honors while receiving the Mr. Football Award.
As a team, Stillater was also a Class 6A Academic All-State Silver award recipient.
Also announced at the banquet is that Jake Olson, David Petersen, Mitch Schertz and Trevor Tillett will serve as captains for the 2013 Ponies.
“Our 2012 team, led y 47 seniors, was committed, worked hard, and found ways to make plays in close games, which resulted in a championship season,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “Now, our juniors and sophomores have to step in, step up, and keep our program moving forward.”
All-Conference: Nick Anderson, Sebastian Borges, Cody Floen, Sam Hodnefield, Danny Laudet, Nate Ricci, Aaron Romportl and Derrick Thingvold; All-Conference Honorable Mention: Alex Burback, Austin Conery, Jason Kleidosty, Marvin Lerol, Grant Moden, Matt Ogren, Connor O’Neill and Joe Quinn; Star Tribune All-Metro Second Team: Nate Ricci; All-Pioneer Press Team: Nate Ricci; All-Pioneer Press Team Honorable Mention: Sam Hodnefield and Danny Laudet; KARE 11 All-Metro Team: Nate Ricci; Associated Press All-State First Team: Nate Ricci; Associated Press All-State Honorable Mention: Danny Laudet; SEC Offensive MVP: Nate Ricci; Scout Player of the Year: Mark Houle (defense) and Judd Lambert (offense); Most Improved Player: Connor O’Neill (defense) and Alex Burback (offense); Coaches Award: Ryan Peltier; Mr. Weight Room: Zach Jelinek; Mr. Football: Nate Ricci; Pete Miller Jr. Memorial Award: Austin Conery; Big Red Hitter Award: Cody Floen; Kearney Memorial Award: Nate Ricci; MVP-Defense Award: Sam Hodnefield; MVP-Offense Award: Nate Ricci; Most Valuable Player: Nate Ricci; Captains elect: Jake Olson, David Petersen, Mitch Schertz and Trevor Tillett.