Football: Melton strong-arms Blaine past Ponies

Stillwater senior running back Mason Green follows the blocking of Thomas Flores, left, and Cody Venske, right, into the end zone for one of his three first-half touchdowns in a season-opening loss to Blaine on Thursday, Aug. 31 at Stillwater Area High School. (Gazette staff photo by Stuart Groskreutz)

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — On a team with plenty of offensive threats, quarterback Connor Melton led the charge for Blaine in a runaway 53-28 football victory over Stillwater on Thursday, Aug. 31 at Stillwater Area High School.

It was the season opener and the first game for the Ponies at their renovated stadium, but it was Blaine that made itself right at home while scoring on each of its first four possessions.

Stillwater stayed with the Bengals in the first half, but could not keep pace with an offense that racked up 582 yards.

Melton was at the center of it all while completing 17 of 25 passes for 407 yards and five touchdowns. The versatile senior, who guided Blaine to the state semifinals a year ago, also rushed for 57 yards on just eight carries.

Peyton Downey made three receptions — the shortest of which went for 48 yards — for two touchdowns while Sam Browne and dangerous Byron Bynum each caught five catches for 87 yards. Bynum caught three touchdown passes and rushed for another.

“They have some very special players on that team,” Ponies coach Beau LaBore said. “They have a great deal of experience and understand how to play their positions effectively. You’re not going to see players play their position in their offense better than their quarterback and their main target, Bynum.”

Blaine extended its winning streak over Stillwater to seven games with a 53-28 football triumph on Thursday, Aug. 31 at Stillwater Area High School. (Gazette staff photo by Stuart Groskreutz)

It was the seventh win in a row over Stillwater for the Bengals, who improved to 15-2 in the all-time series.

The Ponies showed promise on offense with a balanced attack that rolled up 427 yards. Senior Mason Green rushed 23 times for 125 yards and three touchdowns while sophomore Tyler Thureson tacked on 104 yards on 18 attempts, including a 36-yard scoring scamper in the fourth quarter. Making his first start, Stillwater quarterback Mark Roettger completed 12 of 23 passes for 188 yards.

There was pressure on the offense to keep pace after a 21-point opening quarter for the Bengals. Stillwater answered with three first-half touchdowns from Green, but came up short with an opportunity to tie the game just before halftime.

Blaine scored in the final minute of the first quarter for a 21-14 lead and Downey scored on a 48-yard pass from Melton with 9:29 remaining in the half for a 14-point cushion. Stillwater didn’t panic and Green carried seven times on an eight-play scoring drive that also included a 41-yard pass from Roettger to Cooper Yeary.

The Ponies forced a three-and-out from Blaine drove all the way down to the 2-yard line before stalling in the final seconds of the half. An illegal procedure penalty — Stillwater’s only infraction of the game — backed up the Ponies and a fourth-down pass fell incomplete with eight seconds remaining.

“That was huge for us,” Bengals coach Tom Develice said of the defensive stand.

Stillwater was aggressive, knowing it was also starting the second half on offense.

“The good thing was we got better as the half went on,” LaBore said. “We got two stops and were a penalty away from tying it up at the half. Down 28-14 and having given up 21 points in a quarter in about three or four minutes of elapsed time, it would have been really impressive to be tied 28-28 at half, especially with such a different offensive orientation. At that time we still felt like we would have to score every series, not because our defense wasn’t improving or couldn’t get stops, but they have a very impressive offensive football team.”

Blaine stopped the Ponies to start the second half and quickly drove 47 yards on six plays to increase its lead to 34-21. The Bengals didn’t waste any time as Melton hooked up with Bynum for a 19-yard touchdown just three minutes into the half.

“What we said at halftime was we’ve just got to keep it simple and go back to our basics and make them defend the whole field,” Develice said.

It was not the start Stillwater wanted out of the break.

“Our spirits were still pretty good halftime. We were in a football game,” LaBore said. “We needed to come out and put the shoulder pads on them again but went three and out. And they scored quick, and that made it difficult.”

Stillwater responded with a methodical drive on the legs of Thureson, who replaced Green after he left the game with an injury. Roettger also connected with tight end Adam Knapp for 16 yards on the drive.

The drive ended when Blaine’s Luke Schoonover recovered a Stillwater fumble at the 20-yard line. It was the first of three turnovers in a span of four possessions for the Ponies.

“We have to be consistent,” LaBore said. “We had a couple methodical 10-12 play drives that covered a lot of territory and then we had three-and-outs, so we have to be consistent. We have to be more disciplined.”

Blaine scored after two of those turnovers and stretched its lead to 53-21 after Alex Pekula’s nine-yard touchdown run with six minutes remaining in the game.

“We have a long ways to go mentally, with our discipline,” LaBore said. “We’re going to have to dig down a little deeper and be a little tougher as far as our conditioning and the rigors of football, especially on the line of scrimmage. We have to be consistent, regardless of whether we’re playing an offense that’s as explosive of theirs is.”

Thureson continued his strong second half for the Ponies with a 42-yard touchdown with three minutes remaining to provide the final margin.

Both defenses were porous, but Blaine took advantage of the three turnovers and forced one more punt than the Ponies did.

“They’re physical,” Develice said. “That first half, I mean, we had a lot of young kids on that line on offense and defense, so we were concerned with their physicality and how our kids were going to respond. It took us a little bit to get used to it, but our kids did, and I’m very proud of them.”

Stillwater lost its starting safety Anthony Alvarado to a season-ending injury in the team’s scrimmage on Aug. 26 and though LaBore doesn’t dwell on injuries and what-ifs, his absence was notable in the wake of Blaine’s numerous big plays.

“Anthony is a very good young man, a very hard worker and he put in a lot of hard work to get into that position and into that spot,” the coach said. “That’s a big loss for us, but we needed to be better mentally on defense to put ourselves in position to stop a very explosive offense.

“Coming into this game we knew that had a long ways to go to become the best team we could possible be, and there is a few other things that were maybe exposed here that we need to work on. The best thing that can happen is our guys come ready to work on Labor Day and we’ll get ready for a very tough opponent in East Ridge. It doesn’t get any easier so hard work is the only recipe here.”

East Ridge is the two-time defending sub-district champion, but was upended by Champlin Park 34-13 in the season opener.

• It was rough Week 1 for East Metro sub-district teams, which managed just one victory in seven games against North Metro opponents. Roseville was the lone winner with a 34-16 victory over Anoka.

Blaine 21 7 12 13 — 53

Stillwater 14 7 0 7 — 28

Bl — Connor Melton 4 run (Goy Majiok kick) 9:35.

St — Mason Green 1 run (Tyler Cullen kick) 6:07.

Bl — Byron Bynum 7 pass from Melton (Majiok kick) 4:31.

St — Green 4 run (Cullen kick) :59.

Bl — Peyton Downey 80 pass from Melton (Majiok kick) :48.

Bl — Downey 48 pass from Melton (Majiok kick) 9:29.

St — Green 1 run (Cullen kick) 4:08.

Bl — Bynum 19 pass from Melton (kick failed) 8:59.

Bl — Bynum 2 run (pass failed) 1:15.

Bl — Bynum 47 pass from Melton (kick failed) 11:08.

Bl — Alex Pekula 9 run (Majiok kick) 6:10.

St — Tyler Thureson 36 run (Cullen kick) 2:56.

Team stats

Bl St

First downs 25 26

Rushes-yards 27-175 52-239

Passing yards 407 188

Total yards 582 427

Comp-Att-Int. 17-25-0 12-23-1

Fumbles/lost 1/0 5/2

Penalties/yards 4/30 1/5

Punts/avg. 3/35.0 4/32.8

Individual statistics

Rushing — Bl: Alex Pekula 7-74, Connor Melton 8-57, Byron Bynum 6-38, Lucky Vang 2-5, Tim Mafe 2-3 and Carter Peterson 2-(-2); St: Mason Green 23-125, Tyler Thureson 18-104, Dylan Owen 1-6, Cooper Yeary 2-3, Mark Roettger 7-1 and Jay Haws 1-0.

Passing (com-att-yds-td-int) — Bl: Connor Melton 17-25-407-5-0; St: Mark Roettger 12-23-188-0-1.

Receiving — Bl: Peyton Downey 3-180, Sam Browne 5-87, Byron Bynum 5-87, Marcus Giles 1-36, Charlie Studer 2-21 and Michael Gottschalk 1-(-4); St: Cooper Yeary 3-77, Adam Knapp 4-63, Matthew McGinley 3-31 and Ryan Berg 2-17.

Kickoff returns — Bl: Sam Browne 2-46; St: Matthew McGinley 2-56, Cooper Yeary 2-27, Luke Simcik 1-21, Ryan Berg 1-18 and Jake Peterson 1-17.

Punt returns — Bl: none; St: Matthew McGinley 2-13.

Interceptions — Bl: Troy Strand 1-0; St: none.

Fumble recoveries — Bl: Luke Schoonover 1-0 and Brian Broos 1-0; St: none.

Contact Stuart Groskreutz at [email protected]