By Jake Schroer
Crow River News Sports
Making a state tournament trip for the first time since 2008, the Knights surged into Thursday night’s contest against Sartell-Saint Stephen with the same enthusiasm that carried the team through seven regular season wins and a section title.
Coach Essler scouted the Sabres in Sartell’s section title victory against the Moorhead Spuds. Essler’s scouting paid off, as the Knights made big plays early. After stopping the Sabres on the game’s opening drive, Jackson Greenwaldt hit Dallas Freeman for a long pass play. The play set up STMA’s first score, a touchdown run by Noah Evans.
With an early 7-0 lead, the Knights defense shut the Sabres down. Early in the second quarter, Evans scored again, but Landon Bridell missed the extra point. Sartell fumbled on the next kickoff, giving STMA a short field at the 25 yard line. Evans scored his third touchdown on the drive, but not before Freeman turned an interception into a reception.
The Knights missed a two point conversion, leaving the score at 19-0. On Sartell’s next drive, Freeman made the play that kept everyone talking; he intercepted a pass and weaved his way through the Sabres for an 85 yard return touchdown. With over seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Knights led by 25.
Later in the half, Chris Kartes scampered for a nine yard touchdown, and STMA appeared in complete control with a 32-0 halftime lead.
STMA’s lead grew to 39 when Kartes scored his second touchdown of the night. The Sabres woke up after that and injected some life into the game by scoring the next 22 points. Quarterback Brandon Snoberger threw a touchdown to Alex Haima and ran for a touchdown, and Darek Stachowski ran for another.
The Knights took back control when Greenwaldt found Freeman for a 38 yard score, returning the lead to 23 points. Evans scored a fourth touchdown on a short run, giving STMA a 52-22 lead. Haima caught another touchdown late, but the Knights won 52-28.
28 second half points concerned head coach Jared Essler, but he attributed it to the ebb and flow of the game.
“I was proud of our kids. They did everything that we asked of them, and they don’t always have to be pretty in the state quarterfinal. We’ll take it.” Essler said.
Essler took the blame for STMA letting the Sabres back into the game in the second half.
With the victory, the Knights play the rest of the season, however long it lasts, at Mall of America Field in the Metrodome in its final year of operation. Essler said the rest of the way should be fun.
“It’s a pretty good mark for our program to know there’s four teams left and we’re one of ‘em.”
The Knights face the undefeated Owatonna Huskies tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. The Huskies defeated Apple Valley 32-0 in the quarterfinal. The winner plays in the Class 5A championship game.