By Jake Schroer
Crow River News Sports
The conference championship and the top section seed were up for grabs on Wednesday night in a matchup that featured two of the best teams in the Mississippi 8 conference; the Rogers Royals and the St. Michael-Albertville Knights.
STMA came out determined to win, and the Knights quieted the hometown crowd when Jackson Greenwaldt scrambled for a 49 yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The first quarter dominance continued when, after a Dallas Freeman interception, the Knights drove into scoring range and kicker Landon Bridell nailed a 32 yard field goal, extending STMA’s lead to 10 points.
Rogers woke up soon afterwards, and the Royals scored the next 14 points. The first came late in the first quarter, a goal line score by quarterback Connor Henderson. The second came on a 10 yard run by Nate Weber. STMA held Gunnar Bloom in check, as he rushed for just 77 yards after running all over Big Lake for 348 the previous game.
Both defenses settled down in the second after Weber’s touchdown. The battle of the unbeaten remained 14-10 at halftime.
The Knights found their resolve in the third quarter. Dallas Freeman nearly returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and the Knights had excellent field position, beginning the drive at the Rogers 20. Chris Kartes scored his first of two touchdowns on the night, giving STMA a three point lead.
The Knights clamped down defensively in the third quarter, giving its offense time to rebuild the 10 point lead it held early in the game. Noah Evans scored at the four minute mark, giving the Knights a 24-14 lead as they outscored Rogers 14-0 in the quarter.
Things escalated in the fourth quarter. Leading 24-14 and driving, STMA turned it over to the Royals, who scored on a touchdown pass from Henderson to Reid Sagehorn. Sagehorn caught six passes for 141 yards on the night.
The craziness continued when, after a perfect pass glanced off of Freeman’s hands for an interception, Knights leading tackler (eight) Andrew Winans got his own and ran it back for a touchdown, extending the lead back to ten.
On the next drive, Henderson found Weber for a five yard touchdown pass, cutting STMA’s lead to 31-28. The Knights slowed things down on the next possession. STMA nearly succeeded in running out the clock to become the Mississippi 8 conference champions, but Rogers managed a huge stop with under a minute left.
With no timeouts, the Royals got the ball back for one last shot. After a couple of big plays, Rogers got into position for an overtime-or-nothing field goal try. Royals kicker Isaac Aanerud shook off two previous misses and sent the game to overtime.
In overtime, Jake Owens scored quickly to give Rogers the edge. STMA needed a touchdown to extend the game. Kartes provided it by plunging into the endzone from the goal line. However, instead of kicking the tying extra point, the Knights made sure the game ended in a single overtime.
Jackson Greenwaldt found Josh Tracey toward the endzone sideline, but Tracey could not secure the ball, setting off a celebration among the Royals coaches and players. The Royals had won the Mississippi 8 championship.
Coach Essler said that the two teams played well and that his team will learn from its first loss of the year.
“We’ll keep it in the back of our mind that, hopefully there’s a round two,” he said.
Essler cited an old coach’s adage, “on the road, you go for the win” as his reasoning for the two point conversion try at the end of the game. Overall, he felt the game was a lot of fun.
“You don’t ‘work’ football, you ‘play’ football,” he said.