As the top team in the section, Watertown-Mayer probably wasn’t anticipating much of a challenge from a young Central football team last week, but the Raiders gave the Royals a scare and kept things closer than anticipated.
Watertown-Mayer earned a 19-14 victory, but not until after the Raiders had taken a 14-13 halftime lead and held their own through most of the second half.
“We played probably the most complete football game we’ve played all year. The kids really, really competed hard and got after it. You can see that in the results,” said Raiders head coach Paul Henn. “They played almost inspired football, it seemed. They were really into it.
“Knowing that this is the top team in the section right now, they really wanted to know where they stood against that kind of team. As it turned out, even in a loss we gained a bunch of confidence that we can compete. We had lost that a little bit, the attitude that we can compete with anybody and be in football games and have chances to win. I think this was a good point for our kids to realize that if we hang in there and keep learning and getting better that, come section football time, we’re going to be able to really get after some teams.”
With the loss, Central fell to 1-5 on the season, including a 1-4 record in the Minnesota River Conference, while Watertown-Mayer, which is ranked No. 10 in Class 3A, kept pace with Mayer Lutheran, Tri-City United and Sibley East in a four-way tie atop the conference standings. Each of those teams sports a 4-1 league record and 5-1 overall mark. Central is in seventh place in the MRC, ahead of only Belle Plaine, which is winless in league action.
At Watertown, the Raiders struck first with a 12-yard touchdown run from sophomore Noah Peterson in the first quarter (two-point run attempt failed). The Royals quickly responded on a 15-yard quarterback keeper by Nick Tschida, but the point after kick missed and the game was tied 6-6 after the first quarter.
The Royals went ahead in the second quarter on another sneak by Tschida, this time from one-yard out (point after kick was good), but the Raiders had an answer when tight end Luke Marschall snared a two-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Isaac Hormann. Central took the lead when, following that touchdown, Hormann ran the ball in for a two-point conversion.
Neither team managed to score in the third quarter, and the Raiders simply had to hold on for one more quarter to complete a big upset, but an otherwise cleanly-played game by Central was tarnished by a few bad moments in the closing minutes.
A fumble gave the Royals possession, and they capitalized on a four-yard run with about seven minutes remaining in the game (point after kick missed). The Raiders took the ensuing kickoff and began driving down the field, but an offside penalty on a fourth-and-short play put the Raiders in a passing situation, and the Royals picked off Hormann’s throw with about two minutes remaining in the game to seal the win.
“Up until that point we had played a very clean football game, free of mistakes and turnovers. We just got caught a couple of times where we put ourselves in bad spots, and it cost us,” said Henn. “All in all, our kids played fantastic and we forced them into a lot of mistakes. Mistakes are part of football, they’re part of high school sports. You just have to find ways to have them happen less frequently. As a whole, it’s been kind of our plague this year, that we’ve just made mistakes, penalties or turnovers at the wrong time.”
Still, Henn said the team is making progress and learning with each passing week. The team committed just two penalties all game and hasn’t shown any quit in terms of effort.
“A lot of times you get to this time of the year when you’ve struggled a little bit and your seniors can start to lose a little bit of focus and that fire to go out and compete all the time. Our seniors have been the opposite,” said Henn. “They’ve hung in there and done things to make themselves and the other kids better. That’s a credit to those guys. Somewhere down the line in this season they’re going to get rewarded for that.”
Central put up 182 yards of offense during the game (45 passing, 137 rushing) compared to Watertown-Mayer’s 303 yards (81 passing, 222 rushing).
Of Central’s 137 rushing yards, Peterson accounted for 98 yards on 19 carries. Jeff Worm ran for 19 yards on 10 carries, and Hormann gained 14 yards on four keepers.
Through the air, Hormann completed six out of 11 pass attempts for 45 yards, with Marschall gaining 23 yards on three catches and Worm catching one pass for 18 yards.
Top defenders for Central included Derrick Tellers (seven tackles) Nathan Nemitz (six tackles), Nicholas Schwendeman (five tackles) and Sam Newbloom (five tackles).
“I’m really proud of the kids and the way they competed this week. They showed themselves that they can go out and compete with the best teams in the section,” said Henn. “We’re going to try to keep getting better and see what happens.”
For homecoming this week the Raiders will face a good Sibley East team that will likely be looking for revenge after the Raiders knocked them out of the playoffs the previous two seasons.
“I guarantee you they remember what happened in the playoffs last year. I guarantee you they’ll use that to try to fire their kids up this year. We have to come out and match their intensity, because they’re going to want to beat us worse than anybody they’ve beat all year long. It doesn’t matter if we’re 1-5 or 5-1,” said Henn. “Teams tend to remember those things.”
Henn said the Wolverines were expected to be a middle of the pack team during the preseason, but have emerged as a confident and hard-playing bunch that is now aiming for a share of the conference title. The Raiders will try to counter with renewed confidence of their own after a good showing at Watertown.
“Confidence is a scary thing,” said Henn. “Once you get confidence going that can change the whole dynamic of your football team.”