A Raider roster thinned by injuries took an early 6-0 lead and hung with Tri-City United through the first half, but for the second consecutive game gave up big points in the second half en route to a 34-6 road loss on Friday, Sept. 14.
The Raiders are now 0-3 on the season, 0-2 in the Minnesota River Conference with losses to LeSueur-Henderson and Tri-City.
At Tri-City, Central scored first on a 21-yard pass from quarterback Isaac Hormann to tight end Luke Marschall in the first quarter, but the point-after kick failed. After a Central fumble gave the Titans a short field in the second quarter, Tri-City scored on a two-yard run and added the extra point to take a one-point lead into the intermission.
“We had a really close, good football game going for those first two quarters. And then some of the same stuff that has come up to bite us in the past came up again, between kids getting hurt and a couple of turnovers at the wrong times,” said Raiders head coach Paul Henn.
Sophomore running back Noah Peterson, Central’s go-to ball carrier so far this season, went down with an injury. Peterson’s absence, along with the prolonged absence of Ryan Sullivan due to a preseason injury, deprived the offense of its top two running backs.
“Our two tailbacks being out limits what we can do offensively and what we can do formation-wise. It’s been a choppy year for that,” said Henn. “We just struggled to find ways to move the football. When you’re trying to make plays down the field, that’s not always the most high-percentage way to go about moving the football and you’re either going to make some plays and stay close or give up some field position and put yourself in a few bad spots. That’s sort of what happened for us.”
The Titans took control in the third quarter, scoring 20 points on three touchdowns (a five-yard pass, six-yard run and an eight-yard pass). They added a final touchdown on an 11-yard pass in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.
Despite the lopsided final numbers, the overall team statistics did not indicate a particularly one-sided contest. Central was not far behind the Titans in total yardage (199 yards to 254), and actually ran more offensive plays than Tri-City (57 for Central and 56 for the Titans). The Raiders did turn the ball over three times (two interceptions, one fumble), however, while only picking up one Tri-City fumble in return.
The Raiders ran for 120 yards on the ground and passed for 79 yards, compared to 174 rushing yards and 80 passing yards for the Titans.
Mike Mullen was Central’s leading rusher with 55 yards on 13 carries, while Jeff Worm ran 11 times for 32 yards and Peterson had five carries for 20 yards. Hormann was 7-16 passing for 71 yards, and backup quarterback Brice Panning went 1-2 for eight yards during the game.
Tom Messner was Central’s leading receiver with 37 yards on two catches, and Marschall added 29 yards on two catches. Casey Clemensen also caught two passes for nine yards.
While Henn was able to get a number of second-string players into the game for some varsity seasoning, he said that was both a good and bad thing.
“We’re kind of at the point in the year where we like to get some kids reps just to give some kids breaks, but you also need your playmakers. Each team only has a handful of big playmakers, and Noah was obviously a kid who filled that spot for our first couple of weeks,” he said. “Without him there to do that we lose some of that explosiveness and some of the threats and match-ups that he can create not only for himself but for other kids. It just makes it hard to move the ball.”
While the 0-3 start to the season is disappointing, Henn said Raider fans have probably not seen the team playing at its full potential yet.
“We’re not really sure where we’re at because we haven’t had full squads playing full games. So hopefully that will happen here soon and we can see where we really stack up,” he said. “We haven’t had a full group since Day One. I’ve got to believe that once we get that full group in there we’ll start to see who we have. Hopefully that happens at a point in there year where we can still come together and gel.”
Injuries aside, Henn praised the play of the defense through the first half, specifically that of Mitch Huepenbecker on the line and linebackers Mullen and Nicholas Schwendeman.
“Defensively in the first half we played as well as we have all year. I thought some key kids that we’ve been waiting to see step up and play the way we knew they could all year really did that. I was pretty happy to see that,” he said.
“I thought Mitch Huepenbecker had his best game of the year. He really stood out in my mind a little bit. And [Mullen] and [Schwendeman] also had their best games, played really hard and were able to shut down some of the things TCU did best. That’s a credit to them. They’re continuing to learn and get better, and hopefully we can all continue to do that and see where we’re at when we all get healthy.”
Other encouraging signs were that the Raiders did not commit a penalty in the game and played hard until the clock ran out.
“They never quit. In a game like that that gets away from you a little bit, it was good to see the guys playing every down hard up until the last snap,” said Henn.
The Raiders return home to take on Jordan this week, and the game might be Central’s best shot to pick up a win during what remains of the conference season. The Hubmen are also 0-3, have given up at least 41 points in each game, and lost 56-7 to Sibley East last week.
“It’s going to be a tough week out for us every week. We hope we can get some of these kids back to 100 percent soon, and if we don’t we’ll just have to find guys to fill in and get it done,” said Henn.