By Jake Schroer
Crow River News Sports
On a sweltering August night, the football season indeed began as St. Michael-Albertville faced the Buffalo Bison at Buffalo Middle School.
The game belonged to the Knights (1-0) after a pair of early significant moments.
In the first quarter, Buffalo (0-1) quarterback Taylor Spier threw a key incompletion, missing a chance for a touchdown. Instead, the Bison settled for a short field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The lead lasted about 10 seconds. Austin Wick, a senior receiver, raced down the sideline for a 95 yard kickoff return, bringing the score to 7-3 in favor of the Knights. Big plays like his became a running theme for STMA as the game wore on.
Senior running back Chris Kartes, the proud wearer of #28, stole the show. The second and third quarters belonged to him. His big night began with a blocked punt in the second quarter. It continued with a 65-yard touchdown gallop later in the same quarter. At halftime, STMA led Buffalo 14-3.
Kartes ran in another one from 11 yards out for a 21-3 lead in the third quarter. He finished the game with 146 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns.
Both teams had scary moments during the game. Spier and Kartes each left the game with minor injuries at different points; Spier returned to action while Kartes sat. Noah Evans took the bulk of the action from there, finishing with 55 yards on 15 carries.
Buffalo attempted a rally with 6 minutes left in the game, still trailing by 18 points. However, junior linebacker Tyler Berg intercepted a big pass from Spier, halting the drive and sealing the season-opening win for the Knights.
After the game, head coach Jared Essler said that the big plays made in the game were a huge benefit. STMA turned the ball over three times during the game, something Essler said needs to improve.
“We’ve got to be better at ball security.”
The turnovers, Essler said, were likely the result of first-game jitters. The solution, he said, was getting more reps in practice in order to get better.
The Knights featured a power running game on a night where the passing game struggled. Quarterbacks Henry Berning and Jackson Greenwaldt combined to go 3-14 for 54 yards.
The defense held the Bison in check, and seemed in control from the moment Wick scored the game’s first touchdown. The Knights had several big stops throughout the game.
With the win, the Knights took possession of the Muddy Crow traveling trophy. This is the eighth time the Knights have won the trophy since its inception.
Essler seemed pleased with his team’s efforts on both offense and defense. Overall, he felt that the game went well and that the mistakes the Knights made were correctable.
“Even though we won, we’ll take a good hard look at the film and look to get better,” Essler added.
The Knights stay at home on Friday when they face the St. Francis Fighting Saints at 7 p.m. St. Francis (1-0) crushed Duluth East 64-12 in its opener last week.