For most of the night, it sure didn’t look like it would happen. But then, as head coach Craig Johnson put it, it was like somebody “flipped a switch.”
Trailing 18-0 going into the fourth quarter, the Royals put together one of the most impressive comebacks in school history. Brett Johnson’s 34-yard quarterback keeper with 5 minutes left in the game capped the Royals comeback and gave them a 19-18 win over the Wolverines.
Watertown-Mayer improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the MRC, while Sibley East fell to 1-3 overall and 0-3 in the conference.
“We went into halftime and nothing was going right,” Watertown-Mayer coach Craig Johnson said in reference to the 18-0 halftime deficit. We had thrown a couple interceptions, and we were struggling to slow them down. They were physically manhandling us.”
The Royals figured they’d have to get something going in the quarter to have a chance to win, but they never did. The Royals opened the half with a failed onside kick, and although the defense played better, the offense still couldn’t string together enough first downs to put any points on the board.
Still, the Royals never panicked.
“We kept saying that somebody has to make a play,” Johnson said. “Somebody has to make a play to spark us.”
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Jesse Bushman finally delivered that play. Having already blocked a first-quarter extra point that proved to be the difference in the eventual 19-18 win, Bushman this time blocked a punt with the Wolverines’ punter standing inside his own 10-yard-line.
After bobbling the ball several times, the Royals’ Hunter Hulley finally recovered the ball about 8 yards deep in the end zone, putting Watertown-Mayer on the board for the first time all night with 11:53 left in the game.
“We put a high priority on our special teams,” said Johnson, giving special credit to special teams coordinator Chris Behrens. “When we have our summer camp in July, we designate time for special teams — it’s that important. We look at it as one third of the football game, and I think it’s paid off.”
Watertown-Mayer pinned Sibley East inside its 10-yard-line on the next possession, and quickly got the ball back in excellent field position. This time, Hulley caught a 12-yard pass from Johnson with 8:10 remaining to play, and the Royals suddenly were within 18-13.
Once again, the Royals forced Sibley East to punt from deep within its own territory, and although a long punt return for the Royals was negated by penalty, it didn’t take them long to move right down the field and score. Johnson’s 34-yard scamper put his team in front with 5:07 left to play, giving the Royals 19 total points within a 7 minute stretch.
“Holy smokes,” Johnson said. “There was just a phenomenal momentum change after that blocked punt. … It was like somebody flipped a switch and it went from complete Sibley East domination to complete Watertown-Mayer domination.”
Against a much bigger and more physical Sibley East team, Johnson said he thinks the Wolverines finally started to wear down a bit in the fourth quarter, another possible factor in the dramatic turnaround. Offensively, Craig Johnson said he thought quarterback Brett Johnson started making better reads in the option as well, helping the Royals move the ball in the final 12 minutes.
Whatever the reasons for the turnaround, it sure was a memorable one for the Royals.
“I don’t recall a team ever being more excited than this one was,” Johnson said. “One of the things I talked to them about at halftime is that I’ve been doing this for many years, and every team has it’s down personality. What’s our personality? Are we doing to just lie down and give up, or are we going to keep fighting. They answered the call.”
Johnson finished with a team-high 89 yards on 15 carries, and also completed 8 of 17 passes for 69 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Bushman ran for 48 yards on seven carries.
Luke Sandquist caught four passes for 24 yards and Hulley had three catches for 23 yards. Jordan Berrios also had a 22-yard reception.
Defensively, Logan Cooper led the way with 11 tackles, including one for a loss, and Aaron Sweeney and Andrew ziegenhagen each finished with seven tackles.
Watertown-Mayer will be on the road once again this week, taking on a Norwood Young America team that is 0-4 so far this year. However, those losses have come against several of the better teams in the MRC, and if the Royals need any reminders of what can happen against NYA, they need only to think back to last year. The last-place Raiders nearly upset Watertown-Mayer late in the regular season, and then did knock the Royals out of the playoffs with a stunning upset in the first round of the playoffs.
“That’s one of the messages for this week,” Johnson said. “For whatever reason, we’ve struggled against them. They always play us tough. We need to come out focused on NYA and what they do, and what we need to do to get that win. The minute we think we can just walk in there and get away with one, we’re going to get beat.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]
Royals 19, Sibley East 18
WM 0 0 0 19 19
SE 12 6 0 0 18
SE – Erik Danielson 12 run (kick blocked)
SE – Beau Swenson 18 run (pass failed)
SE – Swenson 5 run (pass failed)
WM – Hunter Hulley blocked punt rec. (run failed)
WM – Hulley 12 pass from Brett Johnson (Bushman kick)
WM – Johnson 34 run (pass failed)
Passing: Brett Johnson 8-17-2-69, TD
Rushing: Johnson 15-89, TD; Jesse Bushman 7-48; Cole Durand 1-1; Jordan Berrios 1-1
Receiving: Luke Sandquist 4-24; Hunter Hulley 3-23, TD; Berrios 1-22
Tackles: Logan Cooper 11, Aaron Sweeney 7, Andrew Ziegenhagen 7, Mike Hetrick 6, Jack Nolan 5, Cody Wagner 5, Bushman 4, Nathan Dressel 4, Hulley 4, Ryne Alger 3, Trae Berhow 2, Matt Pysick 2, Bryce Kallenbach 2, Tyler Nelson 2, Sandquist 2, Bill Stauffer 1, Nate Zellmann 1, Wyatt Pouliot 1, Nick Parker 1, Cam Killian 1