After winning just one game during the regular season, the Central football team embarked an unpredictable postseason last week.
The Raiders, a No. 7 seed, opened against No. 2 Watertown-Mayer, and despite a close contest between the teams during the regular season, most outside observers probably expected a relatively routine first round win for the Royals.
Instead, Central put together its best game of the season and shocked Watertown-Mayer, which had been ranked in the state at times this year, with a 13-8 win on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
That win pitted the Raiders against another unlikely upstart — No. 6 Jordan, which upset No. 3 Minneapolis Henry – in the subsection semifinal. As uncertain as Central’s odds had appeared against Watertown-Mayer, the Raiders’ sole victory during the regular season had been a 28-0 romp over Jordan, so Raider fans may have begun to imagine a trip to the section finals in the days leading up to the game.
Those hopes were dashed, however, in a 26-20 loss at Jordan on Saturday, Oct. 27.
“It was a week where you feel as high as you can possibly feel in high school sports, followed by the time when you hit that conclusion and you feel about as low as you can feel,” said Raiders head coach Paul Henn.
Still, the win at Watertown had Henn feeling like the postseason was a success overall.
“I think the postseason for us was a good step forward, no matter what the outcome was in that semifinal game,” he said. “We needed that first round playoff win to not only affirm to the kids how close we were this year, but also to start to build and take that step forward to next year.”
The Raiders finished 2-8 overall, but Henn pointed out that five of those losses came by just one score, factoring out extra points.
“You’re talking about extremely close games where if a few of those games go your way, your record looks entirely different. We were finally able to kind of put it all together against Watertown and were able to get a really big win,” he said. “We were really proud and excited about that.”
Central 13, WM 8
After a close 19-14 loss to the Royals during the regular season, the Raiders knew that if they could put together a complete game, they had a fighting chance to upset Watertown-Mayer in the opening round. After numerous disappointments in the regular season, they were able to do just that.
“We came out and played by far our best game of the year. We didn’t make mistakes. We were able to force Watertown into making mistakes. We were plus-three in the turnovers. We just did everything you need to do to win a close football game,” said Henn. “I think everyone got to see in that one game how good of a team we had a chance to be if we played that kind of football this year.”
The Raiders opened the scoring on a 10-yard touchdown connection from quarterback Isaac Hormann to receiver Casey Clemensen, followed by a Tom Messner extra point, in the first quarter.
Watertown-Mayer briefly took the lead in the second quarter on a 19-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion pass, but the Raiders came right back with a 17-yard touchdown reception by Messner from Hormann. A two-point passing play failed, and the final score was already on the board at halftime.
The teams locked in a defensive stalemate through the second half, and the Raiders had their upset.
“We really felt like we had a chance to win if we played our best game. And not only did our kids buy into that theory, they went out and executed the game plan and did what they needed to do to win,” said Henn. “We just happened to put it all together on that night and play as well as we could play, and that carried us to that win.”
Central held the Royals to just 164 yards of total offense (118 rushing, 46 passing), and Brice Panning, Alex Eichner and Messner each intercepted passes to short-circuit Royal drives.
The Raiders put up 250 yards of offense (117 rushing, 133 passing), with Hormann going 10-19 with two touchdown tosses and no interceptions. Clemensen was the leading receiver, with six catches for 63 yards.
Running back Noah Peterson had one catch for 33 yards, Messner had two catches for 17 yards and tight end Luke Marschall had one grab for 20 yards.
On the ground, Peterson had 61 yards on 19 carries. Mike Mullen ran for 28 yards on 12 carries, and Jeff Worm had 24 yards on eight carries.
On defense, Derrick Tellers had a team-high seven tackles, and Matt Ditsch had five tackles with a deflected pass. Jordan Stevens had three tackles and recovered a fumble.
Central 20, Jordan 26
After running all over Jordan during the regular season, the Raiders knew they were facing a different team in the postseason.
“We went into the Jordan game kind of cautious because we knew Jordan had improved a whole bunch and we knew that it was just going to be a totally different game. We were able to see on film how much Jordan had improved and we prepared just as hard for Jordan as we did for Watertown,” said Henn.
While the Raiders were confident that if they played their best game they could come away with a win regardless of Jordan’s improvement, a number of small mistakes proved to be the difference in the game.
“We made a few mistakes that hurt us. There were drives we weren’t able to close out and some things that you might not notice, some assignments on offense and defense we missed, and they didn’t do that,” said Henn. “I give Jordan a lot of credit. They’ve taken huge steps forward since we played them in the regular season. They’re a team that has a bright future. They had a lot of young kids who were hungry to get a big signature win. They went out and got it done. Everything on paper looked like it lined up for us, but when you go out and play the game there are a lot of factors and things that can happen.”
Jordan took a 7-0 lead after the first quarter on a 14-yard pass, but the Raiders tied it up in the second quarter with a 10-yard pass from Hormann to Clemensen and a Messner kick.
The Hubmen went ahead on a one-yard plunge and took a 14-7 lead into halftime, then capitalized on another one-yard run in the third quarter to extend the lead to 20-7. The Raiders blocked the extra point, however, and answered back on a one-yard keeper by Hormann early in the fourth quarter (the extra point was blocked).
Jordan scored once more on an 11-yard run, but the Raiders again blocked the extra point and closed the gap on a one-yard touchdown run by Worm and an extra point by Messner.
Unfortunately for Raider fans, time ran out on the rally and the season.
The Raiders finished with 311 yards of offense (190 rushing, 121 passing) compared to Jordan’s 240 (156 rushing, 86 passing).
Horman was 13-20 with one touchdown and no interceptions, with Clemensen catching eight passes for 57 yards and Messner making three catches for 41 yards.
Peterson ran for 129 yards on 25 carries and Worm added 30 yards on 10 carries.
“Jordan played at their A level and we were close to our A level but not quite, and some of those little mistakes that kept us from playing at our top level cost us,” said Henn.