For the second straight season, St. Michael-Albertville’s football team rolled into the Section 6-5A quarterfinal against a talented tailback, a high-powered offense and with the hopes its offense would be able to keep up in the scoring column.
And for the second straight year, the Knights defense was the unit that answered the bell, limiting the opponent to well below average in the point column.
STMA cruised to a 38-12 victory over the Elk River Elks, this year on its home field, sending the program into the State 5A playoffs for the second straight season. Head coach Jared Essler’s team held a squad that had more than 400 yards on the ground in several games this season to just over 200, and two second half touchdowns.
“They did everything we could have asked them to tonight,” Essler said. “You look at the plays they made up front, it was outstanding. This team is playing with a lot of confidence, and that’s what you want. You want to be on your highest point in October and November, and this group’s playing its best football right now.”
St. Michael-Albertville set the tone early, holding the Elks to a punt (almost unheard of in the section quarterfinal for ERHS) on its opening series. The Knights got a huge punt return from Jordan Joseph, who scored, but an illegal block pulled the ball back to inside the Elks’ 10. The ERHS defense would hold, but Landon Bridell opened the scoring with a field goal.
Elk River took over on its second possession and moved the ball, but fizzled short of midfield. After receiving another punt, the Knights would drive to inside the 10 again. This time, Joseph finished it with a 6-yard score between the tackles.
The game would turn in the second quarter. Elk River stripped wide receiver Isaiah Weston inside the 35, and began to march down the field behind running back Zach Ernst and tailback Devell Miller. But Miller coughed it up at the Knights’ 5 yard line killing the drive.
“They’re not a team that shoots themselves in the foot. They’re very disciplined in their offense and they don’t put the ball on the ground. But credit our guys. They made plays all night and that was one that really made the difference,” Essler said.
With a 9-0 lead, the Knights offense took command. Joseph picked his way for a couple of runs, as did Tyler Hayes between the tackles. Jackson Greenwaldt hit receivers Bridell and Trevor Rothstein for big first downs. And, 94 yards later, Greenwaldt called his own number from a yard out, making the score 16-0. Essler called for a halfback option pass from Joseph to Bridell for the 2-point conversion, and it was 17-0 heading into the half.
With the first possession in the second half, the Knights could make a statement, or the Elks could’ve turned the tied. It was STMA, again with the running game, that put it away. Joseph broke lose over left tackle for a big gain deep into Elks territory, and then Essler called for the halfback pass again. And again, Joseph hit Bridell. Minutes into the second half, it was 24-0.
Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, ERHS would fumble the ball away again. This time, Joseph would score, and it was 31-0. Ernst would add a couple of touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the Elks, but Luke Eicher got his first touchdown of the night to create the 38-12 final score.
“It’s just a great feeling,” said defensive captain Tyler Berg. “We worked so hard all week to stay disciplined. By far, this was our best night as a defense. We made tackles when we needed them. We had a couple of sacks. Just a great feeling to be going back to state in our senior year and doing it here at home. It’s pretty special.”
Lumberjacks Prove Formidable Foe
The Knights will travel to St. Cloud State University on Friday to take on Bemidji High, who is also 9-1 at this point in the season. STMA and Bemidji both played Chisago Lakes, with the Knights falling on a last second field goal, while BHS sent Chisago home earlier this playoff season with a 28-14 win.
Both teams also beat Forest Lake.
“It’s a great time of year. Every week presents a new challenge. and you can feel good about getting past this one, and then you move on to the next one,” Essler said. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. It’s exciting to have the program at this point and you take pride in the work the guys have done.”