In a season where the Knights have used the motto, “Win the Day,” it actually came down to winning just one play.
St. Michael-Albertville has waited 16 long years to say it. Knights football is headed back to the Prep Bowl.
STMA traveled to Prior Lake and outmuscled, out-hustled and, eventually, outlasted the Mankato West Scarlets in a thrilling 31-28, come-from-behind victory Saturday, Nov. 7.
The Knights took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, thank to an opening drive that led to a Mitch Bourgerie field goal and a touchdown pass from Jacob Viere to Jake Hinz.
But Mankato West, the defending Class 5A champions, weren’t going to go quietly. Rob Miedl, who accounted for all four of West’s four touchdowns of the night, tossed two to Brock Annexstad in the second quarter, and West suddenly had a 14-10 lead.
Enter all-everything athlete Isaiah Weston for the Knights, who has had a season full of big plays. After Annexstad – West’s own No. 81 – went the distance for his touchdown to give the Scarlets the lead, Weston nabbed the following kickoff and sprinted through a huge hole to the left sideline. It was clear sailing, as the senior who is headed to Northern Iowa ran 94 yards, and gave the Knights a 17-14 lead at the half.
“I’ve put a lot on me to be a leader for this team since we got together this summer,” Weston, the lone returnee on offense from the Knights team that was topped by West in the semis last year, said. “I know a lot of the guys look up to me, look to me for advice and experience. I want to be a leader. I think I can do that.”
Both team’s defenses seemed to have things locked down in the third quarter, but Meidl broke through for a 35-yard score to give West a 21-17 lead with under four minutes to go in the third quarter.
But, as they would the entire second half, the Knights offense answered. Using a mix of run and pass, STMA drove the field and took the lead back on a Mitch Kartes plunge from a yard out, and it was 24-21 STMA at the start of the fourth quarter.
Though it wouldn’t come to a walk-off field goal, the fourth quarter would be almost as tense as last week’s contest vs. Spring Lake Park. Meidl, who simply wouldn’t be denied, marched West down the field with an over four-minute drive that culminated with his run from 3 yards out. West had the lead with about six and a half minutes to go in the game, 28-24.
STMA would take just three minutes to answer, getting good field position and marching down the field. The run game kept it going, including a 10-yard scramble by Viere, one of his best runs of the season, on third down. Eric Sjelin plunged in with under 4 minutes to go, and it was 31-27, Knights.
Still, in a game with so many big offensive plays, it would come down to the Knights’ defense to hold it down, and “Win the Day.” After a pass completion from Meidl to Annexstad went for 7 yards on fourth down, the Knights got their stop. The tackle happened just in front of the chains, and West turned over the ball on downs, coming up a tip-of-a-football short.
“You get into the playoffs and there aren’t going to be many major differences between the teams,” said STMA coach Jared Essler, who has reached the semis twice and now the championship game in his five-year tenure. “You just have to make that kind of play.”
And on a third down with 5 yards to go, the Knights did. Needing a big first down to ice the game, Kartes picked up 8 yards. The chains moved, and STMA called for the victory formation.
After losing their opener to Moorhead, who lost to St. Thomas Academy in the other semifinal, the Knights have reeled off 11 wins, three by less than five points and two in “walk-off” fashion, to get to the championship.
STMA and St. Thomas Academy will square off at “The Bank” at 4 p.m. Saturday. Television coverage will be on Channel 45 (Prep45.com) with radio calls on 106.1 FM and KRWC 1360 AM.