by Bruce Strand
A red-hot quarterback almost brought down the Rogers Royals on Friday evening but the Mississippi 8 defending champion held off Jason Senger and the Buffalo Bison 38-36 in Buffalo.
“They have a very special athlete at quarterback,” said Rogers coach Marc Franz. “He just made play after play after play, both passing and running. He had a very good receiving corps, too.”
Senger nailed 17 of 29 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, three of them in the fourth quarter as the Bison (0-3) almost overcame a 31-15 deficit. He also ran 19 times for 81 yards and a five-yard score. Ethan Freer was his top target with five catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was a very exciting ballgame,” said Franz.
Rogers built a 16-point lead with 280 yards rushing — led by Nate Weber with 148 yards on 12 carries, and three touchdowns . They had one touchdown pass, from Connor Henderson to Gunnar Bloom, from 23 yards. Bloom also scored on a 25-yard run.
The ground game was powered by excellent push from the offensive line along with many key blocks from wingback Nate Roehl, said Franz.
In a game where every point mattered, special teams came through for Rogers. Isaac Aanerud, a soccer player who does the kickoffs, was called upon for a 40-yard field goal and made it, just barely, as the ball hit the crossbar and bounced over, for an 18-15 halftime lead. A sack by Nate Hajder foiled the conversion pass on Buffalo’s next-to-last touchdown. Mitch Grupa was 3-for-3 on conversion kicks.
Senger’s final TD toss was a one-yarder to Mitchell Valli with 1:40 left. The Bison were out of time-outs by them. Rogers covered the onside kick and ran out the clock with two kneeldowns.
“We knew Buffalo has an explosive offense,” said Franz, “but it didn’t show as much the first two games because of fumbles and turnovers. They cleaned it up last night, and I think the Buffalo we saw will be the one everyone sees from now on.”
The Royals had some good pressure on Senger but he was very elusive. They sacked him just twice in 31 drop-backs from scrimmage (Josh Malin and Jake Owens).
The Rogers secondary was under siege all evening. Parker Veith made some big plays including an interception, two pass breakups, and another almost-interception where he was ruled out of bounds.
The Royals, ranked No. 6 in Class 5A, will host St. Michael-Albertville (2-1) Friday.