For Watertown-Mayer football coach Craig Johnson, the biggest disappointment in last week’s 13-8 first-round playoff loss to Norwood Young America wasn’t so much that his team lost, but that it didn’t play up to its full potential.
The second-seeded Royals, who less than a week earlier were playing for a share of the Minnesota River Conference title, were bounced from the Section 2AAA playoffs in the first round by the seventh-seeded Raiders, a team that had finished the regular season with a 1-7 record and tied for last place in the MRC. For the Royals (6-3), the loss ended a season that marked a stunning turnaround from the last several years, but still left them wondering what could have been.
“We didn’t play with the fire and enthusiasm I thought we needed to bring to table that night,” Johnson said. “It was a tremendous setback. I don’t know if the kids completely understand the opportunity we had in front of us. I think we had great opportunity to win that game and even possibly a couple more and have a state tournament run.”
Johnson was referring to what turned out to be one of the state’s weaker sections, in which Jordan, which had won only two games in the last three years — including just one this season — advanced to the section final. The Hubmen, who lost to Watertown-Mayer, 44-26, in Week 2, will take on top-seeded Providence Academy (7-2) on Friday night with a trip to the state tournament on the line. Even Providence Academy last week barely defeated a Rockford team that Watertown-Mayer crushed in Week 1.
“I told the kids after the game, in time, they’ll be able to look back at this year and say we made some great strides as a football team,” Johnson said. “It was a great season. But there will always be that black cloud that we missed out on some great opportunities. We had a chance to be conference champs and section champs, and we just did not play our best at the times when we needed to.”
Norwood Young America, on the other hand, did play its best football when it needed to. After a 1-4 start, the Raiders nearly beat the Royals in the first meeting between the two teams as well, though a late Joey Reinert touchdown run saved Watertown-Mayer in that game, giving them a 19-14 win. The Raiders followed that game with a close loss to conference champion Sibley East the next week as well, and seemed to finally get over the hump in the playoff matchup against the Royals.
The Raiders’ Brice Panning intercepted a Watertown-Mayer pass on the second play of the game, and although the Raiders failed to turn that turnover into points, it seemed to set the tone early and turned the field position game against the Royals.
Watertown-Mayer eventually forced a turnover on downs at its own 14-yard-line, but went three-and-out, giving the Raiders the ball back in Watertown-Mayer territory. It took Norwood Young America only four plays to go 48 yards, scoring on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Isaac Hormann to Casey Clemensen to give the Raiders a 7-0 lead with 2:49 left in the first quarter. Hormann and Clemensen had also hooked up earlier on the drive for a 32-yard gain.
After three more possession failed to produce points, Watertown-Mayer finally seemed to seize the momentum late in the first half. The Royals forced NYA to punt from deep in their own territory, and took over at the Raiders’ 35-yard-line. It took only five plays for Joey Reinert to score from 18 yards out with 2:32 left in the half, and Nick Tschida’s pass to Logan Cooper on a fake extra point gave the Royals an 8-7 lead.
But, in a development that became all-too-familiar for the Royals this season, Norwood Young America was able to piece together a late scoring drive right before halftime. The Raiders took over at their own 34-yard-line and marched down the field in 10 plays, scoring on Tom Messner’s 17-yard touchdown pass from Hormann with 2.6 seconds left in the half. The two-point attempt was no good, but the Raiders still had a 13-8 lead and all the momentum going into halftime.
“I felt that when they came down and scored, that gave them the hope they needed in the second half,” Johnson said.
Neither team scored in the second half, though Watertown-Mayer did put together a late drive that gave them a chance to win the game. However, facing fourth-and-inches from the NYA 25-yard-line with about 4 minutes left to play, the Royals called a quarterback sneak. Tschida used a hard count to try to get the Raiders’ defense to jump, but the Royals jumped instead, costing the team 5 yards. A fourth-down pass was incomplete, and the Royals season had all but come to an end.
Watertown-Mayer once again struggled to get the running game going, rushing for only 113 yards as a team. Johnson said Reinert was still at less than 100 percent after missing most of the Mayer Lutheran game the week before, and several injuries on the offensive line during the week forced the team to shuffle some players around. Both of those factors likely caused at least some disruption in the team’s offense.
Tschida led the team by rushing nine times for 51 yards, and Reinert had eight carries for 40 yards. Tschida was 5-for-16 for 46 yards through the air, with Hunter Hulley catching three of those passes for 24 yards. Brendan Weege, Max Zitzloff and Austin Torres led the defense with eight tackles apiece.
Noah Peterson carried the ball 20 times for 104 yards to lead Norwood Young America, and Jeff Worm had 15 carries for 47 yards. Horman was 6-for-12 passing for 90 yards.
Norwood Y.A. 13,
NYA 7 6 0 0 13
WM 0 8 0 0 8
NYA – Casey Clemensen 9 pass from Isaac Hormann (Tom Messner kick)
WM – Joe Reinert 18 run (Logan Cooper pass from Nick Tschida)
NYA – No. 4 pass from No. 17 (pass failed)
Passing – NYA: Isaac Hormann 6-12-1-90, 2 TDs; WM: Nick Tschida 5-16-3-46
Rushing – NYA: Noah Peterson 20-104; Jeff Worm 15-47; Casey Clemensen 2-18; Mike Mullen 2-2; Hormann 4-(-3); WM: Tschida 9-51; Joe Reinert 8-40, TD; Max Zitzloff 8-22
Receiving: Clemensen 3-30; Luke Marschall 1-29; Nicholas Schwendeman 1-27; Peterson 1-4; WM: Hunter Hulley 3-24; Luke Sandquist 1-12; Mark Sandquist 1-10
Tackles – WM: Brendan Weege 8, Austin Torres 8, Zitzloff 8, Tschida 6, Jon Ernst 6, Logan Coop 4, Brett Johnson 4, Nick Burns 4, Ryne Alger 4, Jesse Bushman 3, Luke Sandquist 3, David Gallus 2, Mark Sandquist 2, Hulley 2, Ben Hayden 1, P.J. Hangartner 1