The Indians returned home for a game with the Murray County Central Rebels. Landon Strong led the team with two touchdowns but four turnovers hurt the Indians.

Riding momentum from an 8-7 victory over New Ulm Cathedral last Friday night, the Indians returned home to host the Rebels of Murray County Central. The Rebels came in with a record of 2-0 and a variety of playmakers. Sleepy Eye’s coaching staff and players knew they would provide a test.

“They’re a good team, well-coached, and they’ve got some playmakers,” said Head Coach Cory Haala. One playmaker, in particular, was Justin Benda. Benda lifted the Rebels to victory with six receptions for 116 yards, 54 yards rushing, and 48 yards passing with 3 total touchdowns on the night.

The night started out with the Indians receiving the opening kick-off and taking it into the end zone on the game-opening drive. After the Indians marched down to the Rebels 38-yard line behind runs from Landon Strong and Ethan Fischer, Kegan Heiderscheidt dialed up Nathan Walter’s number for a beautiful pass down the Indians’ sideline for a gain of 34 yards for a first down inside the 10-yard line.

Fischer took the hand-off on the next play and got it to the two-yard line and Landon Strong scored his third touchdown of the year, slamming it in. Strong also took the hand-off and scored on the two-point conversion giving the Indians an 8-0 lead early in the first quarter.

The Rebels didn’t allow the Indians to hold onto glory for too long. Quarterback Mason Woldt found Benda multiple times on the ensuing drive and then rolled out on a play-action pass and found Noah Boerboom in the end zone for the touchdown. The Rebels then used a “swinging gate” formation and threw the Indians off guard and tied it up on the two-point conversion with 1:50 left in the first quarter.

Sleepy Eye would fail to get anything going offensively on their next drive, punting the ball away to the Rebels just as the second quarter began.

Murray County Central took control of the next drive, taking it inside the red zone of the Indians. On 4th and 8, the Indians forced a timeout for MCC to contemplate their next move. As the Rebels’ Benda took a pitch to the right side, he faked out the defense and threw to a wide-open Danny Blankenship for the go-ahead touchdown, making it 14-8 Rebels with 9:30 remaining in the first half.

After an interception by the Rebels, MCC found themselves marching down the field after a deep pass from Woldt fell into the hands of Blankenship once again. Blankenship was shaken up after the play after making a fantastic catch on the sidelines, fully extending his body for the grab. Blankenship walked off under his own power and returned. Woldt would then take it into the end zone on a quarterback keeper, but was denied on the two-point conversion and the Rebels held a 20-8 lead as halftime was nearing.

With 3:26 remaining in the first half, Ethan Fischer showed his vision and speed on a long kickoff return setting the Indians up at the Rebels’ 26-yard line. Heiderscheidt would redeem himself with a touchdown pass to senior Blake Tauer, cutting the Indians’ deficit to 20-14 as we headed to halftime.

The Rebels’ first drive of the second half was halted at the Indians’ 34-yard line as Athlete of the Week Isaac Velasquez pressured the quarterback, forcing an errand throw and the Indians would take over after a turnover on downs.

On the following drive, Benda picked off a Heiderscheidt pass and the Rebels were poised to take advantage. However, on the first play of the drive, the Rebels fumbled the ball and Jacob Berg hopped on top of the ball and the Indians were back in business.

In the flash of an eye, Landon Strong took the first play from scrimmage and took it 44 yards to the house, putting the Indians on top. Strong also would convert his second two-point conversion of the night, and the Indians held a 22-20 lead with 2:24 left in the third quarter.

The Indians lucked out as on the ensuing kick-off Benda took it 90 yards all the way to the end zone, only to have it called back due to a block in the back on the Rebels. The penalty didn’t halt MCC as they drove down the field and Woldt found Benda once again for a 34-yard touchdown. Benda also converted the two-point conversion and the Rebels would take a 28-22 lead as the third quarter was nearly complete.

The Indians returned the kickoff, however as Fischer was fighting for extra yardage, the Rebels defenders stripped the ball and took over at the Indians’ 22-yard line.

Having no answer for Benda, the Indians were trying to make a big stand defensively. Benda would not be phased as he led the Rebels to a six-yard touchdown, putting the icing on the cake as the Rebels extended their lead to 36-22 with 10:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Indians found themselves in comeback mode. Heiderscheidt guided the Indians down the field behind timely passes and a few good runs from Jacob Berg and Landon Strong. Heiderscheidt would dump it off to Nathan Walter, who was stripped and the Rebels recovered, ending the Indians’ hopes for a victory in front of the orange and black faithful.

Head Coach Cory Haala knew that coming in that he would have liked to reduce the team’s turnovers as well as playing a full four quarters. “We gave away too many opportunities tonight,” he said. “I would’ve liked to see more push from our line, both offensively and defensively. I thought we played flat at times during the game.”

Leading the Indians offensively was running back Landon Strong with 11 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Nathan Walter led the receiving corps with 4 catches for 44 yards. Isaac Velasquez showed leadership defensively with eight tackles, followed by Jacob Meyer with six of his own. The Indians had 231 yards of offense with 171 coming on the ground.

The Indians return to action next week as they travel to take on the Adrian Dragons at 4 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 21. Adrian carries a record of 0-3 on the season, but Coach Haala knows that the Indians must be ready to play. “Adrian is always a tough place to play, regardless of their record.” He says the Indians are going to have to be ready for the physicality of Adrian’s philosophy. “They play a very physical type of football.”

The Indians look to get back to .500 with a win over the Dragons and then return home to host Wabasso for homecoming on Sept. 28.

LOCAL AREA SCORES: St. Mary’s KNIGHTS 50, GHEC/ML 16

New Ulm Cathedral 45, Lac Qui Parle Valley 30

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 38, Wabasso 8

Minneota 33, Canby 20