The Knights football team got off to a fast start but could not maintain their early success.

The Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Knights football team was excited to play in front of their home crowd Friday, Sept. 7th for their home opener. The stands littered with green and gold filled the sidelines as the Knights hosted the Blackhawks from Madelia.

The Knights defense started out on the right foot on Madelia’s opening drive of the game. Kyle Tauer stuffed running back Josh Sletta behind the line of scrimmage and on third down, Nick Labat took a deflected pass for an interception with a return for about fifteen yards setting up the Knights offensively early.

The Knights failed to get anything going on offense and was forced to punt. Madelia Quarterback Logan Anderson would take a read-option for a gain of 41-yards down the far sideline setting the Blackhawks up at the Knights’ 32-yard line.The Blackhawks would march down the field deep into Knights territory before Spencer Hoffman intercepted Anderson’s pass in the endzone, the Knights took over at the Blackhawks 20-yard line.

On the ensuing drive, Labat took his own read-option down the Knights sideline for a gain of 32 yards to the Madelia 48-yard line. The Knights continued to use the read-option to its’ advantage on the drive. The Knights behind a Labat and Patrick Hoffmann combination would take it down to the 15-yard line. Labat would then run it in on his own for the touchdown and after a failed two point conversion, the Knights led the Blackhawks 6-0 with :31 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

The Knights would hold Madelia to a halt defensively and forced another punt. As St. Mary’s marched down the field, Patrick Hoffmann took a hand-off from 10 yards out to the end zone and the Knights would convert the two-point conversion to put themselves up 14-0 in front of the green and gold faithful.

The Knights defense once again forced Madelia to a three-and-out and the Knights were back on offense. Labat would throw a pass deep down the far sideline and Wyatt Craft brought it in for a 45-yard gain, setting the Knights up at the 25-yard line. Labat would find Carter Currans in the end zone but the pass was ruled incomplete and the Blackhawks would go back on offense.

Quarterback Logan Anderson dashed off to the left side of his offensive line and injured his ankle on the play. While Anderson was down, backup Ethan Arndt would warm up on the sidelines. With Arndt now behind center, Madelia marched down the field on the back of running back Josh Sletta. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty brought Madelia to the Knights 25, Arndt would find wide receiver Nick Cholors for the score with :31 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The Knights would run out to the clock and go to halftime up 14-6.

Heading into this week’s game, Knights Head Coach Brent Kucera knew it was going to be a difficult task to contain the Blackhawks skill position players. In particular, Angel Zamora. “I said he was one of the best athletes in our subdistrict and he showed us all why tonight.” Zamora would take a carry 34-yards down the middle of the field and the Blackhawks were contending for another score. Arndt found receiver Kadin Benzel inside the 5-yard line and Zamora followed with his first touchdown of the night. Zamora also ran in the two-point conversion, tying the game at 14-14 with exactly 6:00 minutes remaning in the third quarter.

St. Mary’s and the Blackhawks would exchange scoreless drives for the rest of the third quarter. The Knights began the fourth quarter inside the red zone at the Madelia 18-yard line.  Linebacker Luke Hennis penetrated through the line and sacked Labat and would end the Knights’ threat.

The Blackhawks would have an errand snap in the shotgun formation, pushing them back five yards, forcing a 3rd and 15. The Knights defense came up with another stop, forcing Madelia to punt and they took over at the Madelia 47-yard line. St. Mary’s would fail to get anything going offensively, as they seemed to struggle to get rolling on offense in the second half. They would once again punt the ball away.

Zamora once again proved to be a factor. This time taking the punt all the way to the St. Mary’s 45-yard line with a 39 yard return. Josh Sletta took a carry down to the 14-yard line, setting up Zamora once again. Zamora beat his first man outside and sprinted to the end zone without contest to give his team a 21-14 lead with 7:14 remaining in the game.

Madelia on its following drive would convert a big fourth down, giving the Blackhawks a first down with just over four minutes remaining. Madelia would continue to drive down the field deep into St. Mary’s territory when Zamora put it away for good with a 17-yard touchdown, making it 28-14 with just over two minutes left.

Zamora would finish with 120 yards rushing and three touchdowns while also being a big factor in the return game.

Leading the Knights offensively was Labat with 72 yards rushing and a touchdown. Patrick Hoffmann had 60 yards and a touchdown of his own. Kyle Tauer added 47 yards on five carries.

Defensively for the Knights, Labat and Spencer Hoffman each added two interceptions. Carter Currans led the team in tackles with nine.

Despite the loss, Coach Kucera is still confident in his team. Notably stating that they are young and that when adversity hits, they need to embrace it. Assistant Coach Matt Andres agreed. “We need to play four quarters. To beat a team like Madelia you have to play the entire game,” he said. The two coaches seemed ready to use tonight’s game as a lesson for the rest of this season, hinting the loss could be a blessing in disguise for the Knights. “We hope to use this as a game we can learn from to make us better later in the season.”

The Knights will look to get back in the win column next Friday night, Sept. 14 as they travel Granada to take on the Jaguars of GHEC/ML.