Watertown-Mayer football coach Craig Johnson believes his team battled something last Friday night against Jordan that the program hasn’t had to deal with in years.
Facing the team against which the Royals snapped their 21-game losing streak last season — a Jordan team that went on to finish 0-9 — the Royals found themselves trailing 20-12 at halftime this time around. They turned things around quickly, however, scoring five unanswered touchdowns to open the second half and pulling away for a 44-26 win, their second in a row to open the season.
The 2-0 start marks the first time the Royals have won back-to-back games since they beat Jordan and Waconia to open the season in 2004.
“I think we went into the game a little overconfident,” said Johnson, whose team routed Jordan 35-0 a year ago. “As much as you stress to the kids to not take anybody lightly, sometimes it still happens that way. Jordan came out and took it to us a little.”
But Watertown regrouped in a hurry. The Royals chewed up more than half of the third quarter with an opening touchdown drive that was capped by Joe Reinert’s 4-yard touchdown run, bringing the Royals within 20-18 with 5:53 left in the quarter. After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Hubmen snapped the ball over their punters’ head, and the Royals recovered near the Jordan goal line. Reinert added another short score, this one from 3 yards out, to suddenly put the Royals on top, 24-20.
“At halftime, we made a few blocking adjustments, and really just said that this is part of the maturation process as a team,” Johnson said. “We’re down in a game we thought we would have at hand. What are we going to do? Stay calm, keeping doing what we do, only better, or are we going to freak out and struggle?”
Clearly, the Royals stayed calm. They kept up the pressure after those early scores, adding a 25-yard touchdown run from quarterback Nick Tschida to go ahead 30-20 with 1:28 left in the third quarter. Max Zitzloff added a 1-yard run with 7:08 left in the fourth quarter, and Tschida’s 50-yard touchdown run gave the Royals a 44-20 lead with 4:36 left in the game.
After allowing 20 points in the first half, the Watertown-Mayer defense nearly pitched a shutout in the second. Jordan got on the board one last time with 3:15 left to play on a 59-yard touchdown run, but it was too late to make a difference in the outcome.
Johnson said his defense was hurt by a number of big plays in the first half, including touchdown passes of 66 and 45 yards from Jordan quarterback Nate Beckman. However, Johnson said his defense was much more disciplined after halftime.
“We just decided, ‘hey, we have to play better, stay back, tackle better, and do the things that we do, but just do them better,” Johnson said. “They stayed focused, stayed disciplined, and I’m proud of the kids and how they responded.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the story of the game was once again the team’s rushing attack. After a season in which the team struggled to run the ball with any consistency, it has been one of the team’s strengths this season.
Tschida, a week after a season-opener in which he rarely carried the ball, led the team with 137 yards on 18 carries, scoring two touchdowns and becoming the team’s second different 100-yard rusher in as many weeks. Reinert, who ran for 194 yards and three touchdowns last week, had another big game against Jordan, rushing for 122 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. Max Zitzloff, who just missed a 100-yard effort last week, finished with 57 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.
Johnson once again had high praise for the offensive line, which included five new starters this year, as well as a new starter this week in Wyatt Pouliot, who Johnson said filled in admirably for the injured Brendan Weege. But Johnson also gave plenty of credit to the backs, who he said are quickly becoming a tough trio to defend.
“All three backs are getting a lot of yards,” Johnson said. “Who do you try to stop?”
Defensively, Johnson singled out senior linebacker Austin Torres for a strong effort after he led the team with 12 tackles. Tschida added seven tackles and an interception, and Zitzloff also had seven tackles. Luke Sandquist had a sack and P.J. Hangartner also added an interception.
The Royals may be 2-0, but they’ll get their stiffest test of the season Friday night when they host Belle Plaine in their home opener. Belle Plaine (1-1) is coming off a 12-6 loss to Tri-City United, but TCU scored in the final minute to break a 6-6 tie in that game. Johnson mentioned both of those teams among his conference favorites at the start of the season.
“It will be a tough, physical game,” Johnson said. “They’re a very good defensive team. They have very good size and a very experienced quarterback, so our defensive backfield better be on their toes. … “I expect our biggest challenge we’ve had to date. We just have to rise to the occasion and play an excellent game to win.”
Royals 44, Hubmen 26
WM 6 6 18 14 44
Jordan 7 13 0 6 26
Passing: WM — Nick Tschida, 5-13-0-95; Jordan — Nate Beckman 6-24-2-289, 2 TD
Rushing: WM — Tschida 18-137, 2 TD; Joe Reinert 21-122, 3 TD; Max Zitzloff 12-57, 2 TD
Receiving: WM — Luke Sandquist 2-54; Hunter Hulley 3-41; Jordan — Nick Heitkamp 6-116, TD
Tackles: WM — Austin Torres 12, Tschida 7, Zitzloff 7; Jesse Bushman 4; David Gallus 4; Luke Sandquist 3; Hulley 3; PJ Hangartner 3; Reinert 2; Logan Cooper 2; Mike Hetrick 1; Aaron Sweeney 1; Jack Nolan 1; Mark Sandquist 1; Justin Lawrence 1; Bill Stauffer 1; Bryce Duske 1; Jaelen Keavy 1; Jon Ernst 1
Interceptions: Hangartner, Tschida
Sacks: L. Sandquist