Thole: Big Red gridders receive postseason accolades

Gazette file photos
Whether it was orchestrating the “Parting of the Red Sea” or getting into the spirit of hunting for a conference title, the Stillwater Pony Posse supported the football team throughout its Suburban East Conference championship campaign.

Led by versatile all-state performer Nate Ricci, the Ponies’ Suburban East Conference co-champion football team (8-2) placed eight players on the all-conference team announced recently.

Ricci completed 60 of 113 passes for 799 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 439 yards (4.3 avg.), giving him 1,238 yards of total offense. His best, or should I say terrific, stats come on 14 punt returns for a record 26.5-yard average while also returning 10 kickoffs for a 27.6 avg.

He is a repeat all-conference and all-state player — including honors from the Pioneer Press, Star Tribune, Associated Press and the Minnesota Vikings, for which he will be recognized during halftime of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

Another repeat all-conference man is hard-charging tailback Nick Anderson, who rushed for 601 yards (5.3 avg.) and eight trips across the alumni stripes. He averaged 38.8 yards on four kickoff returns. He suffered a season-ending injury near the conclusion of a shining night in the Big Red’s 17-14 victory over Mounds View.

Defensive tackle Sebastian Borges scored 112 defensive points, including 29 solo tackles, 12 assists, 11 negative tackles with a pair of sacks and a fumble recovery. The Ponies had a pair of all-conference linebackers in the persons of Sam Hodnefield and Big Red Hitter Cody Floen.

Floen ranked third in defensive scoring with 148 points on 48 solos, 17 assists, two fumble recoveries, seven negs and a sack. Hodnefield was the second-leading scorer on defense with 151 points after totaling 41 solos, 18 assists, three oskies, three blocked kicks, four negs and a sack.

Aaron Romportl, a converted QB from last year, was steady at his secondary position as he had an oskie and four knocked down passes to go along with 23 total tackles.

A key performer in the Big Red jumbo line (that’s my affectionate term for offensive linemen) was Derrick Thingvold (6-foot-7, 240 pounds), who blocked for a team that averaged 275.5 yards and 25 points per game. He also saw action on the other side of the ball.

Last, but not least, on the all-conference squad is kicker/punter Danny Laudet by way of France (who reminded me of our all-state kicker Sorem Gam by way of Denmark in 1975). Setting placekicking aside for a moment, this kid was a great weapon by punting for a 38.4-yard average — can’t stress that enough. Danny’s eight fields goals and 28 point-afters for 52 points were second only to Anderson’s 54.

Eight others were honorable mention, including Austin Conery (OL), Alex Burback (WR), Jason Kleidosty (LB), Marvin Lerol (DL), Grant Moden (DB), Matt Ogren (LB), Connor O’Neill (DB) and Joe Quinn (WR).

Things look good again next year with the return of a 7-0 Bronk team and an 8-2 sophomore outfit. Oh yeah, wasn’t Zach Knox, who rushed for 614 yards (5.2 avg.), a sophomore? We also have that five-star Pony Posse back in the fold! The Posse is a student rooting section that is second to none. Examples being the vaunted parting of the Big Red Sea and the hunting for a title at Hastings.

The program is moving forward.


Like father, like son

There was absolutely no doubt about which was the best team in Class 4A after Hutchinson blew the doors off Holy Family 67-7 at the Metrodome on Nov. 24. The Tigers unleashed a devastating running attack.

It was the perfect setting for coach Andy Rostberg (123-34) to garner his first state title in 14 years.

State titles are not unfamiliar as he played a significant role in Hutchinson’s three previous state grid crowns. He was the star quarterback on state titles teams coached by his father and hall of fame coach Grady Rostberg (277-89-2) in 1983 and 1984.

Andy served as offensive coordinator on dad’s 1998 state title team. The next year, father turned over the reins to his son. This is the first time in MSHSL history that a father-son combination has won the big prize in football.

I got to know the Rostbergs after Grady and moi coached the South All-Stars to a 25-6 victory in the 1976 prep all-star game at the old Met Stadium in Bloomington. We have been close friends ever since and have also spent a lot of time just fishing.

Between this outstanding coaching duo, the Hutchinson Tigers have won 389 games with 116 losses and two ties.

Grady occupies the press box these days and I’m sure they both benefit from the experience.

Did I mention that the younger Rostberg coached girls’ basketball at Hutch for several years? Yes, he coached Lindsay Whalen!

Through the years, they have done it with hard work and a sound running game — and don’t forget a swarming defense. The Rostberg winning beat goes on at Hutchinson High School.


In the huddle

Have you ever enjoyed a hot bowl of alligator soup? Well, the sports fans that filled the M.V.P. (Men.Value.Purpose) gathering at Trinity Lutheran Church did on Nov. 26. Along with venison, crappie, salmon and bear, the program featured speakers Dennis Anderson, the outdoors writer for the Star Tribune, and former Gophers and NBA basketball player Randy Breuer, who told the crowd about his college and pro cage days and hunting experiences with Stillwater’s Mike Polehna…. Maria Morley has been voted MVP by the Big Red girls’ cross country team. Sophomore Abby Lange, who placed 27th at state, was Stillwater’s all-conference performer while Morley was honorable mention. Captains elect are Bria Eder-Zdechlik, Haley Beech and Grace Mikutowski…. Traci Swenson’s gymnastics team made its debut with a 132.625-116.575 home victory over White Bear Lake last Thursday night. The locals swept the top three places in the vault with Lillyan Pan, Alex Holmberg and Kylie Wittl, plus the beam with Wittl, Pan and Sami Matchi. The Ponies concluded the evening with the all-around, led by Wittl with a winning 34.625 total, Pan at 31.9 and Matschi at 31.65 completing the sweep. In between Wittl was tops in the unevens with Ronsberg placing third and Wittl and Pan went 1-2 in the floor. I had a chance to visit with Traci’s dad Darrel Swenson, who is an iron ranger from Virginia, plus former Pony Carter Adkins ’87, whose daughter Scottland Adkins contributed scores along with Natalie Jantschek and my seventh-grade granddaughter Lauren Thole. In the old days, I would make a few gym meets each year, but I might be more visible now…. Karen and I will be heading to the Fargodome again this week as our NDSU Bison (11-1) host Wofford (9-3) in the FCS grid quarterfinals. Lake Elmo’s Stu Helgason, a former Bison ace linebacker will be along…. Please don’t tread on me…. finis


Today’s rumination #595

After-the-fact excuses just don’t cut it.

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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]