OAK PARK HEIGHTS — The Stillwater football team added a big wrinkle to its power running game — at least for one play — on Friday en route to a 35-0 Suburban East Conference victory over Forest Lake at Pony Stadium.
The victory was Stillwater’s fifth in a row over the Rangers, who have now lost 15 consecutive games dating back to 2011. Since losing to Forest Lake in 2008, the Ponies (2-0 SEC, 2-0) have outscored the Rangers by a combined 179-13 in their last five games.
The outcome was not a huge surprise, but the ball carrier on Stillwater’s second score was anything but typical.
The Ponies were already leading 7-0 in the first quarter when offensive lineman Peter Palecek leaped and stretched for a short touchdown to provide a 14-0 lead. Stillwater eventually carried a 28-0 lead into halftime.
“Our guys came out and executed nicely up front on the offensive line,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “It was nice to play really well the first half.”
And though it was Parents Night for the home opener, the Ponies also gave a nod and pat on the back to its offensive line while providing Palecek and his unsung peers in the trenches a moment to remember.
Palecek capped a five-play, 80-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter — providing a most unexpected highlight for the 6-foot-4, 305-pound left tackle.
“I got the hand-off, went through the hole and natural instinct kind of took over and I reached it in,” said Palecek, who appeared to get stopped on the play before lunging forward with the ball secured in his outstretched hands. “I couldn’t have done it without my blockers and teammates up there, they were pretty much the ones that got me in.”
It was the first rushing attempt for the senior — at any level of football.
“Nope, never carried the ball, ever,” Palecek said. “It was the greatest feeling in the world to score a touchdown. It’s something I’ve never done before. It’s a good feeling and it’s a lot of fun, a fun moment. (I) work hard on the front line, as all linemen do, and it was just fun to get a chance to run the ball.”
LaBore implemented the “Jumbo Fridge Four” play this week as a reward for one of the team leaders in a position that is often ignored by most casual observers, at least until a false start or holding penalty.
“Pallie is the biggest kid I’ve ever coached,” LaBore said. “He’s got wonderful feet and, more importantly, is one of the smartest guys on our team. He has one of the best attitudes on our team and, bigger than anything, is his heart. We thought we needed to give those jumbos a little bit of love so we decided we needed to get him in the end zone.”
Having his number called didn’t faze Palecek when it was drawn up in practice or called under the lights on Friday night.
“He reacted the same way he would react if we told him we were going to run power right or power left,” LaBore said. “He’s very selfless, very humble, and he doesn’t like a lot of attention. He likes to be part of a unit and the offensive linemen have a very tough job and they often times don’t see a lot of appreciation. That was one small way of telling them that we’re watching them and we appreciate them.”
The play was inspired by William “The Refrigerator” Perry, but the coach admitted he didn’t expect its execution to be modeled after a more notable Chicago Bears running back after Palecek went over a pile of would-be tacklers on the way to paydirt.
“Not only did we get our refrigerator into the end zone, he jumped over like Walter Payton,” LaBore said. “He’s a man of very few words, but a lot of action.”
There were also more conventional contributors on Friday for an offense that racked up 467 yards, including:
n Zach Knox rushing for 112 yards on just 15 carries.
n Trevor Tillett completing 11 of 17 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
n Tight end Matt Anderson catching five passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns.
The defense did its part while limiting the Rangers to just 120 yards in posting a shutout against them for the second year in a row. Linebackers David Peterson and Andrew Lammers each finished with five solo tackles to help lead a balanced effort defensively.
The Ponies were efficient while taking command against the Rangers, facing just one third down combined on their first two scoring drives. Tillett completed each of his first seven passes in the game, including a 12-yard scoring toss to tight end Matt Anderson for a 7-0 lead after the first of Evan Johnson’s five extra-point kicks.
Tillett and Anderson also hooked up for a 15-yard completion on the series.
Brooks Carroll and Ben Gualtieri caught passes for 33 and 28 yards on the next series as Stillwater marched 80 yards in just five plays to set up Palecek’s touchdown for a 14-0 lead.
“The team just came out and took care of business,” Palecek said.
Knox, who scored four rushing touchdowns in Stillwater’s season opener, hooked up with Jordan Phelps on a 28-yard halfback pass for a touchdown two minutes into the second quarter for a 21-0 lead.
“That drive was outstanding because we understood what we wanted to do and knew where we wanted to get the football,” LaBore said. “We had to work hard at executing that play and we’ve been working on that play for three weeks. We ran it well for the first time on Thursday night and said we’ve practiced it enough, let’s give it a go and our guys executed it perfectly.”
Stillwater added to its lead before halftime with a three-play drive that covered 70 yards to build a 28-0 lead. Gualtieri, who led the Ponies with 61 receiving yards, caught a pass for 19 yards on first down and Anthony Pignato scampered 46 yards on the next play to set up a 5-yard touchdown by Alec Hill with four minutes remaining in the half.
The Ponies scored again on their first possession of the second half when Tillett found Anderson for an 18-yard touchdown and a 35-0 lead with seven minutes remaining in the third.
“We did some nice things in practice this week and we did some nice things tonight, but we’re going to have to do everything we did tonight better — and some things incredibly better — because we’ve got a heckuva dogfight on our hands (Friday),” LaBore said.
After opening the season with Park and Forest Lake, who combined for just one victory a year ago, the Ponies travel to the University of St. Thomas to face Cretin-Derham Hall in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
The Raiders handed Stillwater its only conference setback a year ago.
Forest Lake 0 0 0 0 — 0
Stillwater 14 14 7 0 — 35
St — Matt Anderson 12 pass from Trevor Tillett (Evan Johnson kick) 8:08.
St — Peter Palecek 3 run (Johnson kick) 5:07.
St — Jordan Phelps 28 pass from Zach Knox (Johnson kick) 9:46.
St — Alec Hill 5 run (Johnson kick) 4:13.
St — Anderson 18 pass from Tillett (Johnson kick) 6:50.
First downs 7 21
Rushes-yards 30-60 38-277
Passing yards 60 190
Total yards 120 467
Comp-Att-Int. 8-14-0 12-19-0
Fumbles/lost 1/1 1/1
Penalties/yards 4/30 5/50
Punts/avg. 7/37.3 3/36.7
Rushing — FL: Nic Norem 11-42, Mike Aho 6-15, Brandon Rogers 8-5, Tyler Anderson 1-4, Mitch Trog 1-0, Leighton Bierman 2-(-1) and Drayton Bagan 1-(-5); St: Zach Knox 15-112, Anthony Pignato 6-66, Alec Hill 5-46, Hunter Novak 5-25, Stephen Wagner 2-18, Andrew Hoy 2-4, Peter Palecek 1-3 and Tyler Hein 2-3.
Passing (com-att-yds-td-int) — FL: Brandon Rogers 7-13-57-0-0; St: Trevor Tillett 11-17-162-2-0, Zach Knox 1-1-28-1-0 and Joey Costa 0-1-0-0-0.
Receiving — FL: Dan Wassman 2-31, Mike Aho 3-14, Nic Norem 1-9, Leighton Bierman 1-3 and Derek Gieser 1-3; St: Ben Gualtieri 3-61, Matt Anderson 5-55, Brooks Carroll 1-32, Jordan Phelps 1-28 and DJ Skie 2-14.
Kickoff returns — FL: Mike Aho 1-45, Dan Wassman 2-29 and Pat Murphy 1-17; St: DJ Skie 1-17.
Punt returns — FL: none; St: DJ Skie 1-5 and Anthony Pignato 1-3.
Interceptions — FL: none; St: none.
Fumble recoveries — FL: NA 1-0; St: Brian Branch 1-0.
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at email@example.com