A Statement Game: Knights beat Rabbits
SLEEPY EYE – In facing its biggest challenge of the season, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s proved why it was worthy of its No. 2 ranking in Class A.
St. Mary’s won the battle of unbeaten teams on Friday night in defeating No. 5 Wabasso 36-15 to guarantee it at least a share of the Southern Minnesota Conference title.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” said St. Mary’s coach Brent Kucera. “Our guys are executing well and they’re getting the tiny things right. We’re just starting to click better.”
The Knights (7-0) dominated in field position early, capitalizing off two punts that were downed inside opposing territory. They took an 8-0 lead with a 43-yard drive before going up 16-0 following a quick three-and-out by Wabasso that gave them 27 yards to reach the goal line.
“Right away, that gave them the great start,” said Wabasso coach Joe Kemp. “They scored early, got the momentum going and kept us pinned back field position-wise.”
The Rabbits (6-1) got a break after a roughing-the-punter call gave them another set of downs at the St. Mary’s 49-yard line. They failed to get anything going from there, however, punting it away to the Knights’ 5-yard line.
From there, St. Mary’s ate up a monster 9:09 off the clock on a 22-play, 95-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard run by running back David Surprenant.
“We had just gotten to within two touchdowns and we were really in position to climb back in the game and they just methodically marched it down on us,” Kemp said. “It was demoralizing.”
During that drive, the Knights were 2-for-2 on fourth-down conversions, of which they finished 5-for-7 in the game. Surprenant led all rushers with 23 carries for 171 yards and one touchdown.
Brandon Helget orchestrated much of the Knights’ offensive success, going 12-for-21 for 88 yards while also rushing for 93 yards off 15 carries. Helget had both one rushing and passing touchdown.
“With him, the pressure never gets to him,” Kucera said of Helget. “He always does great – that’s why he plays quarterback. The pressure never gets to him. Those big games: that’s why he’s back there.”
Wabasso came knocking late in the third quarter with a five-play, 66-yard drive that saw sophomore fullback Caleb Kemp punch it in from 2 yards out to cut the Knights’ lead to 30-15.
Senior receiver John Brandl stepped in for Helget behind center on the ensuing drive, rushing for 20 yards off two carries before finding a wide-open Kodan Kosak for a 35-yard touchdown.
“At practice he practices it, so he knows it,” Kucera said of Brandl playing quarterback. “He just made a play – he took a good shot on the play too.”
Kucera did not elaborate on why Helget was taken out, simply saying “he was just out.” Helget did return after that series, though.
At receiver, Brandl hauled in a game-high five catches for 43 yards and one touchdown, on top of his passing touchdown that turned out to be the final score of the game.
Even though St. Mary’s has almost completely locked up the conference title, the loss does not serve as a setback for Kemp and his team.
“It’s funny how if you win a section title this stuff goes away real quick,” Kemp said with a chuckle.
Wabasso can lock up the top seed in Section 5A if it beats Cedar Mountain/Comfrey on Wednesday, while St. Mary’s can win the SMC title outright with a win against Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart.
Wab 0 8 7 0 – 15
SESM 16 8 6 6 – 36
S – Heiderscheidt 5-yard TD run (2-pt. conv. Surprenant run good), 5:58
S – Helget 9-yard TD run (2-pt. conv. Helget to Kosak good), 3:44
S – Surprenant 5-yard TD run (2-pt. conv. Helget to Brandl good), 3:08
W – Eichten to T. Fulton 63-yard TD pass (2-pt. conv. Kemp run good), 2:53
S – Helget to Brandl 14-yard TD pass (2-pt. conv. no good), 10:03
W – Kemp 2-yard TD run (Deutschmann PAT good), 0:15
S – Brandl to Kosak 35-yard TD pass (2-pt. conv. no good), 6:51