Two of the most tradition-rich football programs in Minnesota will be showcased in the national spotlight on Friday when Stillwater travels to the University of St. Thomas to face Cretin-Derham Hall in a Suburban East Conference game that will be broadcast on ESPN2. Game time is 7 p.m. The defending conference co-champion Ponies (2-0 SEC, 2-0) suffered their only regular season loss against the Raiders 27-13 a year ago and the all-time series is tied 6-6. Cretin-Derham Hall bounced back from a 15-12 loss to Roseville in the season opener to thump Hastings 56-6 in Week 2. Stillwater, meanwhile, has outscored its first two opponents Park and Forest Lake by a combined 61-7.
The Raiders (1-1, 1-1) have never gone consecutive seasons without winning an SEC title and lost just three league games in seven seasons before dropping two games a year ago. Cretin-Derham Hall has won or shared five titles since joining the SEC in 2005 while the Ponies have captured four titles during that span. No program among the state’s largest schools has advanced to the state tournament more than Cretin-Derham Hall (23), but the Ponies rank second with 19 state appearances. Stillwater does have an edge in the state championship department with four titles (1975, 1982, 1984 and 1995) while the Raiders have claimed two crowns (1999 and 2009).
Competing on national television certainly adds to the drama, but the Ponies know the ramifications of this game’s outcome extend beyond Friday night with regard to their conference title aspirations.
“I think our players will show up and see some of the pomp and circumstance that goes with an ESPN2 broadcast and it will be a reminder,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “I’m going to trust they’re going to be mentally prepared for why ESPN is there and that’s to watch a good football game. When we start the warm-up, our guys will be focused on the football game and do what they’ve been coached and prepared to do. When it’s all said and done, whether it’s being broadcast on KLBB, FSN North or ESPN2, there’s a good opponent across from us and there’s a lot on the line. This is why our guys have worked as hard as they have and when it comes down to it, it’s about our players doing what we’ve prepared to do as well as they can, just like any other week.”
The primary reason for ESPN’s interest in this game is Cretin-Derham Hall junior defensive end Jashon Cornell, who has been listed as the top college football recruit in the country from this year’s junior class. He has plenty of help, led by senior running back Blake Banham, who averaged 6.8 yards per carry a year ago and has bettered that this season with 266 yards on 34 attempts (7.8 avg.) and three touchdowns through two games. Quarterback Ricardo Johnson has completed 23 of 39 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. His favorite target has been Aito Flood with eight catches for 158 yards (19.8 avg.) and two touchdowns. Flood also leads the SEC with a 40.9-yard punting average. The Raiders are allowing a league-low 224.5 yards per game on defense and have collected eight takeaways without committing a turnover. Cretin-Derham Hall has been flagged a 17 times for 155 yards, compared to six penalties for 55 yards for the Ponies.
“They have one of the best running backs in the conference, if not the metro, in Blake Banham,” LaBore said. “Every time he touches the ball he has a chance to score. He’s a two-year starter and he’s tough to tackle. They’re a typical Cretin team and they’ve got plenty of high-end talent. They’ve got at least three or four guys that will get Division I looks on offense and defense. On top of that, they’re usually a pretty physical team and they are aggressive and well coached on offense and defense. They have the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country so that shows there’s only so much you can do about him. He’s going to make big plays, but our job is to limit those plays the best we can and account for him in certain situations, maybe more than we would for any other team. That’s the reality in football, you can only pay so much attention to one guy on the field. Moreover, we’re playing Cretin-Derham Hall and they’re always talented so it’s not the kind of team you can give all your attention to one guy and dare others to beat you because the other guys are pretty doggone good, too. It means we have to come out and play our best football.”
Ponies junior running back Zach Knox ranks second in the conference with 283 yards rushing on 51 attempts (5.5 avg.) with four touchdowns. The television timeouts — three per quarter — and longer quarter breaks should benefit the workhorse, who carried 36 times in the season opener. Quarterback Trevor Tillett has completed 19 of 35 passes this season (54.3 percent) for 268 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Tight end Matt Anderson leads the Ponies with 10 catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns while DJ Skie has five catches for 74 yards. Defensively, the Ponies are led by linebacker Caleb Fick with 11 solo tackles and 29 defensive points. Andrew Lammers has racked up nine solo tackles and three assists while Ian Weisbrod has eight solo stops.
“We have to be strong on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and we need to ensure there are no big plays (allowed) like last year,” LaBore said. “We need to continue to play disciplined football, limit penalties and no turnovers.”
Adapted flag football set for Sept. 28
The Stillwater football program is sponsoring its Eighth Annual Adapted Flag Football Game on Saturday, Sept. 28 at Stillwater Junior High School’s Miller Field. Stillwater football players will join individuals currently enrolled in special education programs in Stillwater Area Public Schools, Early Childhood Family Education and Alumni are invited to participate. Spectators are also welcome. The event will be held from 1:30-3 p.m., which refreshments served following the conclusion of play.
Pre-registration is not required and, in case of rain, refer to the Ponies’ website: poniesfootball.com.