I don't have any insight into the South St. Paul Packers' game plan going into Friday night's game against Mahtomedi, but it seemed to have a familiar feel to it.
The Packers were going to pound the Zephyrs on the ground and make enough plays in the passing game to score points, and the defense was going to control the line of scrimmage and make sure Mahtomedi could not run the ball. When time ran out in the fourth quarter of the Packers' 27-13 victory, it was evident – like most of the recent Packers' football history South St. Paul had the talent to do it.
In the strangest play of the game, running back Angel Rodriguez was in pass protection, but he caught a deflected pass in the backfield, scampered around the corner to pick up nearly ten yards. Later he carried the ball up the middle behind center and guard Sam Dwelle and Darien Foster for good yardage. Rodriguez went off the right side to score one of his two touchdown runs. He showed he has good vision in the open field. He took a run off tackle and then bounced it outside for ten yards.
Cade Sexauer is a solid running quarterback most evident on two particular runs. He ran the option and decided not to make the pitch – good idea. He made a guy miss and picked up twenty yards and a first down behind linemen Jamison Snook and Dwelle. Late in the game, he again kept the ball on the option and ran off tackle. By the time the defense brought him to the ground, he had picked up 26 yards, broke four tackles and although he is only listed at 200 pounds, carried a pile of tacklers down the field before falling just short of the end zone.
When called upon, the senior signal caller could use his arm to hurt the Zephyrs too. He connected on a thirty-yard crossing route to Nathan Brandecker. Later facing a 4th and six, he completed a short pass for a first down.
Although Sexauer and Rodriguez had moments, Chase Bentson was the Packers' workhorse. A physical runner, he was effective inside and outside. He seemed to run with a purpose all night. Although none of his runs were as eye-popping as Sexauer's late game romp, collectively his runs took the biggest toll on the defense. One of his best runs of the night was behind Spencer Wesalla and Derek Hane on the left side.
“There was one run where I should have broken it for a touchdown, but we were all running hard,” Bentson said. “The offensive line blocked well.”
Bentson seemed to be most effective running behind Wesalla, Hane and tight end Ben Smith. A prime example was on a Bentson run to the outside. Wesala started the play with a seal block; then Smith and Brandecker did a solid job of downfield blocking allowing Bentson to get into the open field.
In the middle of the line was Foster. Obviously critical to any of the many inside runs as the center he was also the key blocker on a quarterback sneak that picked up a first down.
“We are a running team. We want to establish the run,” head coach Chad Sexauer said. “Our offensive line knows that. In the fourth quarter I think (Mahtomedi defense) got a little tired and we were able to finalize things.”
Strong defense kept the Zephyrs to just one meaningful touchdown.
Mahtomedi tried to run a sweep toward outside linebacker Joe Marlow. He maintained outside leverage and punched the ball out of the running back's hands allowing teammate Luke Oleson to recover the ball.
Oleson also combined with Karel Agborambang for a sack. Agborambang then teamed up with Brady Boomgaarden to stuff an inside run.
Cornerback Ben Marlow got a good read and a nice break on a ball almost coming up with an interception.
Smith was also critical on defense. The linebacker made two nice tackles on the inside.
“We have been focused on making them one-dimensional,” Smith said. “Stopping the run was our main focus, and we would deal with the pass later, and we just executed.”
Later Smith made another stop in the middle of the line that stopped Mahtomedi on a third and short. Bentson teamed up with Smith to stuff a run at the line of scrimmage. Late in the game, Smith read a screen and forced an incompletion.
“I thought I played pretty well. I could have been better in a few different places,” Smith admitted, “but I felt I played pretty well. I did my job and didn't try to do too much.”
It is more complicated than this of course, but when the Packers don't do too much; when they run the ball and stop the run – like Friday night – they tend to win.