Watertown-Mayer football coach Craig Johnson said it was clear hours before last Friday night’s football game that his team knew the significance of the game it was about to play.
Part of a four-way tie for first place in the Minnesota River Conference with two games to go — both against teams also tied for the conference lead — Johnson described a refocused energy among his team all week long. At 4 p.m. in the home locker room, 3 hours before kickoff, Johnson sensed a certain silent edge to the team before what he said was a long, quiet bus ride to Montgomery to take on Tri City United.
But once the ball was finally kicked off, it took only moments for the Royals to unleash all that focus and energy on the unsuspecting Titans in what turned into a 35-7 rout for the visiting Royals. Nick Tschida’s 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown took the steam out of the Titans just two plays into the game, and the Royals cruised from there into a matchup Wednesday against Mayer Lutheran for a share of the conference title.
“We kind of set the tempo of the game when we recovered that fumble and ran it in on the first play from scrimmage, and put them on their heels a little bit,” Johnson said. “It was just a tremendous team effort. Good offense, good defense, and solid special teams. It was just a good all-around game for the Royals.”
The win over Tri City United (5-2) eliminated the Titans from the conference title race and set up a showdown between Watertown-Mayer (6-1) and Mayer Lutheran (6-1) for at least a share of the conference title on Wednesday night, after this edition went to press. The winner would share the league title with Sibley East if the Wolverines beat LeSueur-Henderson, or win the title outright if Sibley East stumbles.
In order to set up that showdown with Mayer Lutheran, however, the Royals first had to beat a Tri City United team that, through the first half of the season, appeared to be in the drivers seat to the MRC title. But the early touchdown for the Royals stunned the Titans and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Tschida found Luke Sandquist for a 15-yard touchdown pass later in the quarter, and Joe Reinert’s 10-yard touchdown run with 3:02 left in the second quarter gave the Royals a 21-0 halftime lead.
Tri City United showed signs of life when a 1-yard touchdown run from Ted Christian with 6:07 left in the third quarter cut the Royals’ lead to 21-7. However, within 3 minutes, the Royals had removed all doubt.
Reinert had an immediate answer to the Titans’ touchdown, scoring on a 58-yard touchdown run less than a minute later, and with 2:59 left, Jesse Bushman’s 3-yard touchdown run extended the lead to 35-7. Reinert finished with 153 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
In all, the Royals rushed for 252 yards on 45 carries, a 5.6-yard average, despite missing two starting offensive lineman. For the second consecutive week, Wyatt Pouliot did a nice job filling in at center for David Gallus after moving from right tackle, and with Brendan Weege also missing this game with a knee injury, sophomore Bill Stauffer stepped in and did a nice job at right tackle.
“That what you really want to promote,” said Johnson, who also noted that Jacob Wandersee did a nice job filling in at weak side tight end once Luke Sandquist rolled his ankle. “Even if you’re not on the field as much as you’d like, you’re always one injury away from being the guy.”
Max Zitzloff added 40 yards on eight carries for the Royals, and Tschida had 32 yards on 11 carries. Tschida also completed 5-of-9 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown, and Logan cooper had 23 yards on five carries.
Wandersee had one catch for 22 yards, Mark Sandquist had one catch for 18 yards and Luke Sandquist had one catch for a 15-yard touchdown. Reinert also added two catches for 13 yards.
Austin Torres led the defense with seven tackles, but it was Luke Sandquist who likely made the biggest difference on that side of the ball. Sandquist had six tackles, four of which were for a loss, including one sack.
“He was an animal on defense,” Johnson said. “He had four tackles for loss to the point that they wouldn’t even run to his side.”
The Royals’ game against Mayer Lutheran on Wednesday night had more implications than just the Minnesota River Conference title. It also had significant seeding implications, and Johnson was hoping if his team won, it could give the Royals the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. If the Royals don’t get the No. 1 seed, they would open the playoffs on Tuesday, Oct. 23, almost certainly at home, but if they do get the No. 1 seed they would have off until Saturday, Oct. 27, which would give some of the Royals’ injured players more time to recover. Johnson did note, however, that both Gallus and Weege were close to being able to return Wednesday.
Tri City United 7
WM 14 7 14 0 35
TCU 0 0 7 0 7
WM – Nick Tschida 22 fumble return (pass failed)
WM – Luke Sandquist 15 pass from Tschida (Jesse Bushman pass from Tschida)
WM – Joe Reinert 10 run (Bushman kick)
TCU – Ted Christian 1 run (Alex Turgeon kick)
WM – Reinert 58 run (Bushman kick)
WM – Bushman 3 run (Bushman kick)
Passing – Nick Tschida 5-9-0-68, TD
Rushing – Joe Reinert 18-153, 2 TD; Max Zitzloff 8-40; Nick Tschida 11-32; Logan Cooper 5-23; Jesse Bushman 2-4, TD; Brett Johnson 1-0
Receiving – Jacob Wandersee 1-22; Mark Sandquist 1-18; Luke Sandquist 1-15, TD; Joe Reinert 2-13
Tackles – Austin Torres 7, Luke Sandquist 6, Nick Burns 5,k Nick Tschida 5, Logan Cooper 5, Jesse Bushman 4, Hunter Hulley 3, Justin Lawrence 3, Max Zitzloff 3, Ryne Alger 3, Mike Hetrick, Brett Johnson, Hendrik Kinscheck, Mark Sandquist, P.J. Hangartner, Shane Johnston
TFL – L. Sandquist 3
Sacks – L Sandquist 1
FR – Mike Hetrick
FF – Hunter Hulley, Jack Nolan, Brett Johnson