One year ago, Mayer Lutheran dashed Watertown-Mayer’s conference title hopes with a win in Watertown on the final Wednesday of the regular season.
The Royals weren’t about to let the Crusaders spoil their title hopes two years in a row.
Watertown-Mayer beat Mayer Lutheran on the road on Friday, Oct. 11, earning a 27-17 victory that gave the Royals a chance to compete for the Minnesota River Conference title on Wednesday night. A win for fourth-ranked Watertown-Mayer over Jordan (4-3) and a Tri City United (6-1) win over Belle Plaine (7-0) would give the Royals a three-way shae of the conference crown.”
Watertown-Mayer coach Craig Johnson said his team knew what was at stake last week in keeping their title hopes alive, and also in beating a rival Mayer Lutheran team that nobody on this Royals’ squad had ever beaten. Mayer Lutheran won each of the first two matchups since Watertown-Mayer joined the Minnesota River Conference three years ago.
“I thought the kids were actually a little uptight before the game,” Johnson said. “I told them there’s a difference between getting focused and psyching yourself out. To come out and have a good game and beat a very good team, I’m proud of our guys. They just figure out a way to get the job done.”
Last year, when the Royals entered the Mayer LUtheran game with a 5-1 record and a chance to earn a share of the conference crown, but didn’t figure out how to get the job done in a 21-14 loss to the Crusaders. Johnson said that game was motivation for this year’s squad.
“Last year it was a game that could have given us part of the conference championship, and they took it to us,” Johnson said. “I think our kids were motivated and played very hard.”
The Royals led 13-10 at the half, but broke things open in the second half. Jesse Bushman caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brett Johnson in the third quarter, their second scoring connection of the game, and Nick Parker added a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter to put the Royals on top, 27-10. A late Mayer Lutheran touchdown pass from Cole Buttenhoff to Anthony Gruenhagen cut the lead to 27-17, but not until the final minutes of the game.
The Royals got on the board first on a 65-yard scoring strike from Johnson to Hunter Hulley, but later in the quarter fumbled on a pitch deep in their own territory. The Royals defense kept the Crusaders out of the end zone, though, forcing Mayer Lutheran to settle for a Chad Annenson field goal.
“We were able to hold Lutheran to just a field goal, and I thought that was a huge deal,” Johnson said.
Bushman caught his first touchdown pass, a 10-yarder from Johnson, in the second quarter to give the Royals a 13-3 lead, before LHS got a 1-yard run from Buttenhoff to make the score 13-10 at the half.
The Royals were able to rush for only 119 yards in the game, but did much of their damage through the air, with Brett Johnson going 6-14 for 115 yards and three touchdowns on the day. Craig Johnson credited Mayer Lutheran for taking away what his team does best, but also his own team for adjusting as well as it did.
“(LHS) is big, and they apply a lot of pressure up the middle with their big guys,” Johnson said. “They force you to do things you don’t want to do, and in this game, we ended up getting three touchdowns via the pass.”
Johnson said special teams, especially the work of punter Luke Sandquist — who also had two sacks in the game — made a big difference in the way the game played out. Sandquist punted seven times for an average of 44.3 yards.
“He was booming the ball,” Johnson said. “Several times, we were deep in our own end, and Mayer Lutheran ended up getting the ball deep in their own end because of his punting. I thought that was a major factor in the field position game.”
Bushman led the Royals with 5 rushes for 72 yards, and also had the two touchdowns through the air. Johnson added 12 carries for 32 yards and Parker had eight carries for 15 yards and a touchdown. Hulley had two catches for 71 yards.
Buttenhoff completed 15 of 32 passes for 182 yards for the Crusaders, and also ran 10 times for 36 yards. Joel Burfeind ran 19 times for 87 yards, and Matt Huinker caught four passes for 72 yards. Burfeind also had five catches for 35 yards and Gruenhagen had four catches for 52 yards.
Andrew Ziegenhagen finished with nine tackles for the Royals, and Logan Cooper and Hulley both finished with seven. Hulley also had a sack, while Johnson and Tyler Nelson each had an interception and Wyatt Pouliot recovered a fumble.
The Royals also hosted Jordan on Wednesday night, after this edition went to press, in the regular season finale. The playoffs open on Tuesday, Oct. 15, almost certainly at home for the Royals, who figure to draw a high seed in their section as one of the state’s top-ranked teams in Class AAA.
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]
Royals 27, LHS 17
WM 7 6 7 7 27
LHS 3 7 0 7 17
WM – Hunter Hulley 65 pass from Brett Johnson (Jesse Bushman kick)
LHS – Chad Anenson 25 field goal
WM – Bushman 10 pass from Johsnon (kick failed)
LHS – Cole Buttenhoff 1 run (Anenson kick)
WM –Bushman 3 pass from Johnson (Bushman kick
WM – Nick Parker 1 run
LHS – Anthony Gruenhagen 1 pass from Buttenhoff (Anenson kick)
Passing: WM — Johnson 6-14-0-115, 3 TD; Parker 0-1-0-0; LHS — Cole Buttenhoff 15-32-1-182, TD; Joel Burfeind 0-1-0-0
Rushing: WM — Bushman 5-72, Johnson 12-32; Parker 8-15, TD; Cole Durand 1-0; LHS — Burfeind 19-87; Buttenhoff 10-36, TD; Nathan Weber 8-29
Receiving: WM — Hulley 2-71, TD; Luke Sandquist 1-21; Bushman 2-13, 2 TD; Logan Cooper 1-10; LHS — Matt Huinker 4-72; Gruenhagen 4-52, TD; Joel Burfeind 5-35; Taylor Otterstetter 2-23
Tackles: WM — Andrew Ziegenhagen 9, Logan Cooper 7, Hulley 7, Ryne Alger 6, Nate Zellmann 5, Jack Nolan 5, Bushman 4, Cody Wagner 4, Sandquist 4, Tyler Nelson 3, Trae Berhow 2, Nathan Dressel 2, Bill Stauffer 2, Cam Killian, Johnson, Hunter Durand, Aaron Sweeney; LHS — Weber 11, Buttenhoff 6, Otterstetter 4, Gruenhagen 4, Huinker 4, Burfeind 3, Andrew Wolf 3, Sam Schlueter 3, Mason Diedrick 2, Anenson, Rhett Kovar, Mitch Krause
Sacks: WM — Sandquist 2, Hulley; LHS — Otterstetter, Schlueter
Int: WM — Johnson, Nelson; LHS — Wolf