As the St. Mary's football team rumbled through the regular season and the sectional playoffs, on the way to an undefeated season and the Section 2A championship, you had to wonder just how good the Knights really were.
If you look at the majority of the games played, they weren't really challenged. The usual rivals showed up to play: Springfield once and Cathedral twice, but St. Mary's handled them pretty well and usually had a comfortable lead. So when Faribault Bethlehem Academy popped up as their State quarterfinal opponent they would be a good test. The Cardinals are a good solid team with a lot of senior leadership and experience, fielding 17 seniors on their squad compared to the Knights' six.
When the game was over in Rochester last Saturday night, we had our answer. St. Mary's put up a good fight, but could not make much of a dent in Bethlehem Academy's defense and got worn down by the Cardinal's balanced offense, losing 43-12. "This is the best team we played this year," said St. Mary's head coach Brent Kucera. "They were just bigger and stronger than us and had more bodies."
For most of the first half St. Mary's held their own and it wasn't until the final minutes of the half that Bethlehem Academy opened up a two possession lead. After exchanging punts the Cardinals scored on a 45-yard pass play from quarterback Kyle Filzen to Mark Mahowald. The PAT kick gave Bethlehem a 7-0 lead. Nothing happened in the next four possessions, but a disturbing pattern was emerging. St. Mary's always has a good balance between rushing and passing, but tonight the Cardinals were shutting down the Knights runners at the line of scrimmage. The Knights would finish with only 59 yards rushing, a season low. However, quarterback Jordan Anderson was throwing the ball well and getting good protection. In the second quarter, with the wind at his back, he hit John Brandl with a 34 yard pass and then scored on a keeper run of six yards. The PAT failed, but the Knights were on the board, 6-7.
That didn't last long as the Cardinal's Filzen scored on a 68 yard kickoff return and then passed to Blake Langerud for the two-point conversion for a 6-15 score with 6:32 left in the half. Bethlehem scored again on a four-yard run by Adam Clark, the PAT kick was good and the Cardinals opened the gap to 6-22. The Knights came right back with a 12-play 70 yard drive of their own, capped by a 5-yard pass to Brandl for the TD. The PAT failed and the half ended with the score 12-22.
St. Mary's opened the second half by recovering a Cardinal fumble, but that was probably the high point of the half. A blustery wind and intermittent rain showers were wreaking havoc on the Knights passing game and they were forced to pass on almost every down in an effort to play catch-up football. Anderson is usually very good at protecting the ball and throwing pin point passes, but the wind was causing the ball to flutter and float, just ripe for a pick off. And that's what happened. Mahowald stepped in front of an Anderson pass and sprinted 50 yards untouched into the Knights' end zone. The PAT kick was good for a score, now at 12-29. Anderson threw another interception on St. Mary's next possession and a defense growing weary of slugging it out with bigger, fresher players took the field again. They rose to the occasion and forced Bethlehem to punt. The effort was marred when the Cardinals returned the punt to the Knights six yard line. Langerud ran the ball in for six and the Cardinal's excellent kicker, Lexi Temple, nailed the PAT into the wind for a 12-36 score.
Page 2 of 2 - Anderson was intercepted two more times in the fourth quarter. He wasn't helped by some questionable non-calls by the officiating crew. The St. Mary's receivers were being held and shoved all over the field and not one single pass interference call was made. The Cardinals scored one more time on a Filzen run for the final score of 12-43.
"Clearly turnovers hurt us," said Kucera. "We didn't get our run game established and we were forced to pass in situations that we didn't want to."
In spite of the disappointing loss, this was a great season for the Knights and if you look back over the last two seasons the team accomplished more than any other St. Mary's football team. Two Section 2A championships, a Southern Minnesota Conference championship, a 2012 undefeated regular season record, two state quarterfinal appearances with one win, a semi-final state appearance and no doubt several team individual records. We may not see a passing attack for a long time like the one led by Jordan Anderson and his core of talented receivers, especially when he was throwing to Sean Mathiowetz. This was a great, entertaining team to watch, a credit to the school, and they are to be commended for playing a clean game with spirit, talent and enthusiasm. The dedicated coaching staff did an excellent job of teaching the young men how to play the game and preparing them to do their best on the field each time out.
"It hurts losing this year's senior class," said Kucera. "We only had six of them, but they are high quality guys. They did a lot for this team and helped us win 10 consecutive games and go undefeated at home the last two years."
Seniors on the squad were Jordan Anderson, Sean Mathiowetz, Mitch Neid, Tyler Helget, Cody Berkner and Alex Mages.
338 total yards, 59 rushing, 279 passing
Jordan Anderson: 23/46 passing for 279 yards for 1 TD, 29 yards rushing for 1 TD
Mitch Neid: 14 yards rushing
David Surprenant: 14 yards rushing
John Brandl: 93 yards receiving, 1 TD
Sean Mathiowetz: 77 yards receiving
Brandon Helget: 42 yards receiving
David Surprenant: 5 solo tackles, 7 assists, 1 sack
Lucas Heiderscheidt: 6 solo tackles, 6 assists
Andrew Steffl: 1 solo tackle, 4 assists, ½ sack, 1 fumble recovery
Jordan Anderson: 4 solo tackles, 2 assists