BY ROB LAPLANTE
The next time Rogers squares off with the St. Michael-Albertville football team, the name Chris Kartes will likely be circled on the chalkboard.
The STMA junior running back had a career game, highlighted by a three-touchdown performance. He also set career highs with 23 rushing attempts and 176 yards from the ground, leading the Knights to a 28-14 win Friday at Rogers.
With 5:57 left to play in the opening quarter, Kartes and the Knights struck first, connecting on a 10-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Cole Krutzig.
On the Knights next drive, Kartes found a big hole that senior offensive linemen Sean Scharlau and Mike Kessler opened up for a 59-yard scant. He followed that up scoring on a 29-yard run, giving STMA a 14-0 lead.
“I just ran through the holes,” Kartes said. “My offensive line, fullback and wide receivers were making huge holes for me and all I had to do was make a few cuts and run through the hole. It was pretty easy.”
Rogers would gain momentum late in the second quarter. Junior Nathan Hajder picked up a Krutzig fumble and scampered untouched from 30 yards out to pull the Royals within 14-7.
“It was a bad exchange,” said STMA head coach Jared Essler. “You play in real close games and those kinds of things can’t happen. We’ll have to get that cleaned up.”
The Royals carried their momentum into the second half and tied the game 14-14, when junior quarterback Connor Henderson hooked up with junior wide receiver Joey Simpson for a 5-yard TD strike.
“You never want to fall down 14-0, but I’m extremely happy with how we battled back and we were able to tie it,” said Rogers’ head coach Marc Franz. “We’re kind of an inexperienced team yet and for them to do that, I was really happy with how they continued to compete.”
Coming off a career game of his own, Rogers junior running back Nate Weber was held in check by a stingy STMA defense. A week removed from a 142 yard, three-TD performance, Weber and company were held to just 84 yards on the ground.
With 11:06 left in the fourth quarter, Kartes would score his third TD of the contest, scoring from six yards out. It gave the Knights a 21-14 lead. The lead was significant, because moments later, the game would turn ugly with heavy rain and winds taking over.
“I think God was finally looking down on us,” said a laughing Essler, describing the timing of the 20-minute downpour. “That was just bizarre.”
Senior fullback Bennie Wilson would ice the game away with a 2-yard rushing TD. It was Wilson’s second rushing TD of the season. Wilson and junior cornerback Andrew Winans led the team defensively with five solo tackles. Sophomore Noah Evans led the defense with eight total tackles.
The victory was the first time in three seasons that STMA had defeated the Royals. Kartes said it was finally nice to be able to defeat their arch-rival.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Kartes said. “It’s been since 2009 when we last beat them and to beat them on their home turf is the greatest feeling.”
With the victory, the Knights and the No. 5 ranked Royals are both 3-1 in the Mississippi 8 Conference, trailing only Monticello, who is 4-0. Both coaches know the Magic are an improved team this year, but both Essler and Franz were quick to point out their mutual respect for each other’s programs.
“St. Michael has a lot of good players,” Franz said. “That’s the sign of a good program, when guys go down others step up. We lost the game, but I’ll chalk it up as a learning experience. It’s very likely we’ll see them come playoff time, so we’re going to watch films and learn and get better.”
“It’s a big win for us,” Essler said. “(Rogers) has been the gold standard around here. They have been conference and section champs three years in a row. You can’t win the conference if you can’t beat the champs and we did that and gave ourselves a shot.”
Rogers will clash Friday night at first-place Monticello. STMA returns home for a date with Buffalo. Saturday night’s Buffalo game will be Homecoming for the Knights. Both games kick off a 7 p.m.