Going into last Friday night’s homecoming game against Sibley East, Watertown-Mayer football coach Craig Johnson noted how worried he was about the Wolverines’ big tight end, Tyler Bates.
Turns out, he had plenty of reasons to be concerned. Bates caught six passes for 85 yards — all of them in the second half and several in crucial third-and-long situations — as he helped his Sibley East team rally from behind in the second half to beat Watertown-Mayer 28-15. The loss was the first of the season for Watertown-Mayer, which fell to 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the Minnesota River Conference.
Sibley East also improved to 4-1 and 3-1, and both teams are now part of a three-way tie for second-place that also includes Mayer Lutheran. Tri City United still leads the conference at 4-0.
“I think we’re tremendously disappointed,” Johnson said. “We had a large crowd, it was the homecoming game, and that’s a big deal for our kids. To lose the game, that’s very disappointing, but not discouraging. We’re going to approach the next game just like every game. We’re going to practice hard, prepare well, and see what happens on Friday.”
Bates’ numbers for Sibley East on Friday weren’t staggering, but the timing of his production was back-breaking. After being held without a catch in the first half, all six of his receptions came in the second half. Trailing 15-6 at the break, he caught four passes for 44 yards on the first possession of the second half, including a key third-down catch to keep the drive alive, and later, a 13-yard touchdown reception to bring his team within 15-13.
After Watertown-Mayer fumbled at its own 47-yard line on the ensuing possession, the Royals nearly got the ball back by forcing a quick three-and-out, but Bates won another jump ball on third-and-12 for an 18 yard gain to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, a 2-yard touchdown run for Sibley East’s Brandon Ashton gave his team a 21-15 lead.
And finally, after Watertown-Mayer had to punt on its next drive, Sibley East took over deep in own territory nursing a 6-point lead. Two nice plays by the Royals’ defense forced a third-and-12 at the Wolverines own 12-yard-line, but Bates again went up to catch a jump ball for a 23-yard gain. The Wolverines eventually had to punt, but didn’t have to do so from their own end zone.
“That first drive of the third quarter, many times we had good coverage on him,” Johnson said. “We just couldn’t match 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. That was the problem. But to his credit, he postured himself and positioned himself to high point the ball time and again. You have to give credit to their quarterback as well for putting the ball in a position only he could get it.”
Even with Bates’ big second half, the Royals had their chances. After the Bates touchdown brought the Wolverines within 2 points, the Royals ripped off 23 yards on three running plays to open the next drive. However, the Royals fumbled the exchange on the next play to give it back to the Wolverines.
Later, trailing 21-15, the Royals took over at their own 40-yard line, but Sibley East’s Erik Danielson intercepted a pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to push the lead to 28-15 with 5:44 left. After Aaron Bates intercepted a pass on the Royals’ next drive as well, the outcome was no longer in doubt. In all, the Royals turned the ball over four times in the game after coming in with only one turnover all season.
“It’s impossible to win in that situation,” Johnson said.
Things got off to a shaky start for the Royals in the first half as well when Jesse Bushman fumbled the opening kickoff, and Danielson scored on a 17-yard run on the next play, giving the Wolverines a 6-0 lead just 18 seconds into the game. Bushman made up for the mistake in a big way, though, taking the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, and then tacking on the extra point himself to give the Royals a 7-6 lead with 11:28 still left in the first quarter.
The Royals then forced a three-and-out and appeared poised to cruise to yet another win when they methodically marched the ball right down the field for another score. A 22-yard gain for quarterback Nick Tschida set up the Royals up with first-and-goal at the three, and two plays later, Joe Reinert added a 5-yard touchdown run, his 10th of the season, to give the Royals a 15-6 lead.
But once Sibley East regrouped to take the lead in the second half, the Royals found themselves in an unfamiliar position. Except for briefly against Jordan, the Royals had played from in front almost all season until the second half on Friday.
“Something just clicked, the heads went down and we almost went into somewhat of a panic mode, which we hadn’t shown at all this year,” Johnson said. “I think we did try to press and do too much, and not let game come to us. That was the critical thing. I hope that was a lesson learned for our team.”
The Royals will be back in action at home on Friday night at 7 p.m., when they take on a Norwood Young America team that is struggling after winning the conference championship last year. The Raiders are 1-4 overall and 1-3 in the conference, and are coming off a 33-0 loss to Mayer Lutheran. However, Johnson warned that many of the inexperienced players the Raiders started the year with will have gained some of that experience by the time Week 6 rolls around on Friday.
“This is Game 6, so some of those guys who hadn’t played a lot previously are seasoned a little bit now,” Johnson said. “But I expect that if we play well, we have a chance to win every night.”
SE 6 0 15 7 28
WM 15 0 0 0 15
SE – Erik Danielson 17 run (kick failed)
WM- Jesse Bushman 85 kick return (Bushman kick)
WM- Joe Reinert 5 run (Max Zitzloff run)
SE – Tyler Bates 12 pass from Brody Rodning (No. 17 kick)
SE – Brandon Ashton 2 run (Danielson run)
SE – Danielson 60 INT return (No. 17 kick)
Passing – SE: Brody Rodning 6-12-0-85, TD; WM: Nick Tschida 5-16-2-43
Rushing – SE: Erik Danielson 19-94, TD; Brandon Ashton 13-53, TD; Aaron Bates 12-26; Brody Rodning 4- -6; WM: Joe Reinert 13-53, TD; Nick Tschida 13-50; Max Zitzloff 5-17
Receiving – SE: Tyler Bates 6-85, TD; WM: Luke Sandquist 1-21; Hunter Hulley 2-14; Reinert 2-8