After a rough first week, as head coach Jared Essler watched his young St. Michael-Albertville squad fumble away a chance to knock-off a tough opponent in it opening game, a thought stopped the head coach that has taken the Knights to the state semifinals two years in a row.
“If we can be playing our best at the end of October, then we’re doing all right. It’s a growing process, and these guys can fix the mistakes we made the other day,” he said.
As the field erupted into a swam of blue and gold when Mitch Bourgerie’s kick sailed through the uprights on Halloween night, Essler’s prognostication came true. In a game that required STMA to overcome the most heartbreaking of mistakes, his team corrected its course, and won a spot in the State Semis for the third straight time, and a second straight match-up with powerhouse Mankato West.
Bourgerie, who had been stuffed on a point after earlier in the game, bailed out the STMA offense, which had fumbled away a chance to take the lead with just over 40 seconds to go, literally.
But the STMA defense held, and Essler used three time outs to simply freeze the clock, and STMA got the ball back near midfield. A couple of offensive plays later, looking to overcome a 14-12 disadvantage that had stood much of the second half, Bourgerie was lined up for a 42-yard kick. It would’ve been good from beyond that.
STMA’s defense found a way to limit Spring Lake Park on offense. And, after the offense had to overcome a 14-6 deficit without weapon Isaiah Weston, the ground game picked up the slack for the Knights. Mitch Kartes and Eric Sjelin combined for 273 yards rushing – 172 by Sjelin. But it was almost undone by a pair of turnovers – one each on the air and on the ground.
You can catch the highlights of STMA’s dramatic win here: