The outcome of last Friday night’s football game between Jordan and Watertown-Mayer was known well before the final horn sounded.
Once Hunter Hulley’s 25-yard fumble return for a touchdown gave Watertown-Mayer a 35-14 lead, the last 7 minutes and 8 seconds of the fourth quarter seemed almost irrelevant for the Royals. There was only one score anybody cared about at that point, and it was from a game going on 45 miles away.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock of the Royals seventh victory of the season, the public address announcer finally provided the news from Montgomery that everybody had been waiting for. Tri City United 25, Belle Plaine 13.
Tri City’s win over previously unbeaten Belle Plaine — combined with Watertown-Mayer’s 35-21 win over Jordan, gave the fourth-ranked Royals (7-1 overall, 6-1 MRC) part of a three-way share of the Minnesota River Conference title. Both TCU (7-1, 6-1) and Belle Plaine (7-1, 6-1) also share the title.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Watertown-Mayer coach Craig Johnson said of a team that managed to pull off a number of close games this season. “(The conference title) is a tribute to the kids and their resiliency, and never getting down when things weren’t going right. They just kind of kept their drive going, and were always focusing on the prize.”
The conference title is Watertown-Mayer’s first since 1985, the year before the Royals won the state title in 1986. It also solidified the No. 2 seed in Section 2AAA, which comes with a first-round bye and a second-round home game, which will be at 3 p.m. against either third-seeded Minneapolis Patrick Henry or sixth-seeded Rockford on Saturday, Oct. 26. Glencoe-Silver Lake earned the No. 1 seed.
Following last Wednesday’s win, with a week and a half off until their first playoff game, Johnson gave his team four days off, and the team didn’t return to practice until Monday. Even Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices, which were held before the Royals even knew who they would be playing, focused mostly on fundamentals, Johnson said, before game planning was to start on Wednesday.
“That was one of the motivating things, that if we got the first-round bye, we were taking four days off,” Johnson said. “If they like to hunt, or fish, I told them to go do whatever they like to. This time of year, their bodies get pretty banged up, so this gave them a chance to recover.”
Against Jordan last Wednesday, the Royals were nursing a slim 14-7 lead midway through the third-quarter as the Hubmen appeared poised to tie the game. A 7-play drive that started at the Hubmen’s own 32-yard-line had moved well into Royals’ territory when Andrew Fogarty carried for a first down at the Royals 30. However, that’s when the ball popped out and the Royals recovered on a play that may have dramaticallyl shifted the momentum.
Six plays later, Watertown-Mayer was in the end zone with a 21-7 lead, thanks to a pass over the middle to Hulley, who broke a tackle and was off to the races on a 35-yard scoring play.
Jordan answered back with a 12-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 4-yard run from quarterback Brian Hartman with 9:42 left in the game, cutting the deficit to 21-14. However, a big kickoff return from Tyler Nelson gave the Royals great field position on their ensuring drive, and it took just four plays to go 55 yards for a 5-yard Brett Johnson touchdown run that gave his team a 28-14 lead with 8:14 left.
Watertown-Mayer sealed the win on Jordan’s next drive. After quickly forcing the Hubmen into a fourth-and-eight at their own 37-yard-line, Luke Sandquist came up with a sack that would have been huge regardless, but was magnified when the ball popped out and was scooped up by Hulley on his way to the end zone.
“Our big players came up big,” Johnson said. “Luke Sandquist has been lights out. Hunter Hulley had a great game. Jesse Bushman had a great game. Logan Cooper had one of his best games. Kid after kid just does their job, and they never get discouraged.”
The Hubmen scored three-plays later, cutting the gap to 35-21 with 6:32 still to play, but never were able to get any closer.
The Royals took a 14-0 lead in the first half, twice capitalizing on Jordan miscues. A Jordan fumble late in the first quarter gave the ball to Watertown-Mayer at the Jordan 39-yard-line, and eventually led to an 8-yard touchdown run from Johnson with 19.7 seconds left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, on Jordan’s ensuring possession, Hulley sniffed out a fake punt on fourth-and-two from Jordan’s own 35-yard line, bringing down Ray Carter for no gain and once again giving the Royals a short field. Jesse Bushman eventually capped the short drive with a 1-yard run.
In all, including Jordan’s turnover on downs on the fake punt, Jordan turned the ball over four times, leading to 28 points for the Royals.
“If you look back over the last three or four games, that’s consistently been the case,” Johnson said of his team’s ability to turn turnovers into points. “Things are going our way. I hope we can keep it going that way.”
Jordan’s lone first-half touchdown came just before the half on a 13-yard run from Casey Hull.
Johnson led the Royals with 76 yards on 17 carries, and he also completed 8 of 16 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Cooper had 72 yards on 12 carries and Bushman had 67 yards on nine attempts. Hulley had 74 yards on five receptions, including one touchdown.
Andrew Ziegenhagen led the defense with 11 tackles, while Hulley and Bushman each had nine. Zellmann finished with eight tackles, and Hulley and Sandquist each had a sack.
“It’s just been a wonderful ride,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can keep it going as long as possible.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]
Royals 35, Jordan 21
Jordan 0 7 0 14 21
Royals 7 7 7 14 35
WM – Brett Johnson 8 run (Jesse Bushman kick)
WM – Bushman 1 run (Bushman kick)
J – Casey Hull 13 run (Gustavo Marinos kick)
WM – Hunter Hulley 35 pass from Johnson (Bushman kick)
J – Brian Hartman 4 run (Marino kick)
WM – Johnson 5 run (Bushman kick)
WM – Hulley 35 fumble return (Bushman kick)
J – Hartman 6 run (Marino kick)
Passing: WM — Johnson 8-16-0-115, TD
Rushing: WM — Johnson 17-76, TD; Logan Cooper 12-72; Bushman 9-67, TD; Jordan Berrios 1-12; Cole Durand 4-7
Receiving: WM — Hulley 5-74, TD; Bushman 1-16; Jack Nolan 1-13; Luke Sandquist 1-12
Tackles: WM — Andrew Ziegenhagen 11, Bushman 9, Hulley 9, Nate Zellmann 8, Bill Stauffer 6, Ryne Alger 5, Nolan 5, Trae Berhow 4, Sandquist 4, Cooper 3, Johnson, Hunter Durand, Berrios, Matt Pysick, Cody Wagner, Tyler Nelson
Sacks: WM — Hulley, Sandquist
FF: WM — Nolan, Sandquist
FR: Zellmann, Hulley