It would have been easy for St. Clair/Loyola football coach Dustin Bosshart to have quarterback Ben Ellingworth take a knee with a five-point lead and 21 seconds remaining in the first half on the Spartans 43-yard line.
It should have been even easier following a pair five-yard pre-snap penalties.
However, the decision not to paid off in a big way big when Ellingworth connected with Conner Andree on a deep 67-yard touchdown pass, a play that changed the momentum in the Spartans’ 21-14 home victory over Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity on Mankato’s Good Counsel Hill.
“Taking a knee certainly crossed our mind,” Bosshart said with a smile. “We drew one up in the dirt that we thought might get Conner open and it worked.”
The Spartans led 13-8 at the time.
“We put together a play we were confident in,” Ellingworth said. “Conner ran a great route that made it possible.”
The Spartans, who finished 8-2 last season and return a plethora of key players this fall, were in need of win after a disappointing loss to Medford in their opener..
“It’s a great feeling and a huge morale booster,” defensive tackle Dawson Davito said. “This is going to be big for us going into next week and the rest of the season.”
The Spartans appeared to be on their way to a comfortable victory early, with a rushing attack led by Ellingworth. An 18-yard run by the senior quarterback was followed by 13-yard sprint to the end zone to get the Spartans on the board late in the first quarter.
On the defensive side, Davito, Kahlan Benning, Dylan Thompson and rest of the Spartans’ front was dominant from the start, getting consistent penetration into the Bulldogs backfield.
Thompson made a key fourth-down stop late in the game and also intercepted a screen pass that led to the Andree touchdown at the end of the first half.
“Dylan has been starting for us since he was a freshman, so he’s earned his stripes,” Bosshart said. “We preached screen all week, and he was ready for it.”
After taking a 21-8 lead into the half, the ride was less smooth after the break.
The Bulldogs began to have success running the ball, and nearly scored on first possession of the half. Thompson’s fourth-down stop came at the end of the drive with the Bulldogs deep in Spartans territory.
On offense, the Spartans struggled to move the ball, with the hits piling up on Ellingworth, who rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs pulled to within a touchdown following an Ellingworth fumble that was the result of a massive hit deep in Spartans territory. They scored four plays later.
The ensuing possession was all about the Spartans imposing their will.
Ellingworth, Isaiah Ewert and Andrew Kohrs each played key roles in a seven-minute, 13-play drive that iced the game. Ewert rushed for 28 yards on the drive, while Ellingworth went for 27. The game ended with Ellingworth taking a knee, giving the Bulldogs no chance to respond.
“We do a drive-block conditioning drill for situations just like that one,” Bosshart said. “I was really proud of the way our seniors stepped up in there.”
The Spartans (1-1) will play Friday at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton.
Rochester Century 35: Mankato West 14: Jack Foster rushed for two touchdowns in the first half, but the Panthers outscored the Scarlets 22-0 in the second half for the win at Rochester.
Jon Sikel made five receptions for 52 yards. Foster rushed for 36 yards before suffering a sprained ankle, which limited West's offense.
Owen Johnson and Wyatt Block each made 13 tackles.
West (1-1) hosts Northfield on Friday.
Austin 34, Mankato East 28: Jared Grams threw two touchdown passes to Grant Hermer, but the Cougars lost at Austin.
Grams completed 11 of 20 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Hermer's touchdowns covered 25 and 33 yards. Grams also hit Tanner Borchardt with a 4-yard touchdown pass.
Leslie Miller rushed 16 times for 91 yards and a touchdown. Muse Abdi kicked a 27-yard field goal for the game's first points.
Kolin Baier led the East defense with eight tackles, and Griffin Gartzke made six.
East (1-1) returns home to play Winona on Friday.