Benilde-St Margaret's started defense of their state championship at home against Waconia on Friday night. The Red Knights picked up right where they left off in U.S. Bank Stadium and opened up a 21-point lead. With all signs pointing towards an easy victory, Waconia came storming back, and BSM needed a pair of clutch drives on offense and the continued solid play of the defense to hold on for a 28-14 victory.
Both defenses controlled the early part of the game. BSM's defense scored the first points. Waconia quarterback Nolan Vanderhoff was hit by linebacker John Whitmore. The hit caused a fumble and defensive lineman Patrick Kalb scooped up the loose ball and covered the final forty yards to score the season's first points.
“Any time you get a turnover that turns into a touchdown that turns games in a hurry,” BSM head coach Jon Hanks said.
Benilde looked like they were going to expand on the lead the next time the offense got on the field but as BSM got into the red zone Waconia's defense toughened up. Facing a fourth and four at the Waconia nine-yard line the Wildcats' defense came up with a stop to keep it a one score game.
After a punt, the Red Knights' offense started going. Liam Ford found some room running between the tackles. Ford would break a run to the outside behind a block from Braeden Fitzgerald –who would also boom two forty-yard plus punts. The run covered 40 yards and gave the defending champs a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Waconia would threaten, but BSM's defense didn't break and forced a turnover on downs. The Red Knights' running game then kicked it into high gear. Gabe Jackson found running room behind Whitmore and Elijah Brown but the drive would stall and BSM would miss a field goal.
The defense would again pin the Wildcats' offense deep, and after a punt, the offense would push the lead to 21-0. Facing a 2nd and 15, Red Knights' quarterback Tino Fialo looped a perfect pass down the sidelines to Gabe Alada for a forty-yard touchdown.
Just when it looked like the Red Knights were going to run away with the game Waconia turned up the heat. They would score the next 14 points.
Vanderhoff completed some short passes to move into BSM territory. They were facing fourth and twelve, and Vanderhoff found Jaden Vanderhoff for 32 yards just before the half. The Wildcats would keep the momentum into the second half with the Vanderhoffs connecting again – this time from six yards out.
The Red Knights would put together their biggest drive of the game to answer the Wildcats' push. Jackson ripped off a series of runs – including a 22-yard run in which he broke two tackles. BSM had a first and goal from the six, but penalties would set them up with a first and goal from the 30-yard line. After a short run, Clyde Sellke would catch a 29-yard touchdown pass from Nick Peterson.
“We got them in the huddle, and we said we are going to run this and kick a field goal. They said ‘no, we are going to get this in the end zone.' That adversity didn't bother them,” Hanks said. “They thought ‘we are going to make a play.'”
Down 28-14, Waconia would threaten one more time. They drove the ball inside the twenty-yard line but were faced with a fourth and ten. Vanderhoff threw a catchable ball to the outside that would have undoubtedly resulted in a first down, but the pass was dropped – giving the ball back to the defending champs.
BSM would not score again but put together a long, time-consuming drive that put the Wildcats deep in their own end with just two minutes to play.