The last two years the eventual Class AAAA state champion has come out of Section 5 but neither team had been able to come through the section two years in a row.
The 2017 Class AAAA state champion Academy of Holy Angels became the latest Section 5 team to not reach the state tournament in back-to-back years after longtime foe Benilde-St. Margaret’s defeated the Stars 17-10 Tuesday in Richfield in the first round of the playoffs.
The sixth-seeded Red Knights rode the legs of an inspired Isaiah Smith for 149 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to upset the third-seeded and No. 7-ranked Academy of Holy Angels.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s trailed 10-3 heading into the final quarter after the Stars took advantage of a Smith fumble at the Red Knights’ 7-yard line. Rook Rowe found Mitch Hendrickson for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 5 minutes to play in the third quarter to break a 3-3 tie after the teams traded field goals in the first half.
The fumble left Smith angry and an angry Smith redeemed himself one series later.
“Isaiah was pissed when he fumbled the rock,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s head coach Jon Hanks said. “He kind of gets another gear sense of attitude. He feels very responsible for kicking that ball on the rug. He really came to the sideline madder than a hornet and good for us because then he kind of changed his tune. He wasn’t going down on the first or second hitter, he was dragging them.”
On his second carry Smith burst for 49 yards to put the ball at the Stars’ 21-yard line. Five plays later he ran in from a yard out for a touchdown and the Red Knights tied the game after the extra-point kick.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s (6-3) forced Holy Angels (7-2) to put on its next possession and then Smith kept running. Smith carried five times on a seven-play, 63-yard drive. The Red Knights benefited from a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty and Smith capped the drive with a 2-yard plunge with 6:35 left that gave Benilde-St. Margaret’s a 17-10 lead following an extra-point kick.
The Stars punted on their next possession but got only last possession following a Red Knights’ punt. Holy Angels, which suffered its first loss of the season last week 31-7 to Orono to drop from the No. 1 ranking in Class 4A, got the ball with 1:41 left to play but threw an interception on a fourth-and-11 to end any chance at winning the game.
The Stars came into the game averaging better than 150 yards rushing behind an 80-yard-a-game average from Thomas Shelstad, who also led the team with 12 touchdowns.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s held Shelstad to just 56 yards rushing on 19 carries, less than 3 yards a carry.
“We just wanted to make sure we took Shelstad out of the game and our kids did a great job of buying into what we were teaching, and then they were flying to the football,” Hanks said. “We had to, the kid is a load.”
Linebacker John Whitmore was one of those kids flying to the football for the Red Knights. He finished with a team-high 14 tackles.
“We changed up our scheme a little bit for them,” Whitmore said. “We had help contain. We didn’t do that last time. Everyone filled their gaps. We implemented a run defense called Okie and it was really effective.”
Benilde-St. Margaret’s just had the one turnover, a big difference from the four the Red Knights had in a 34-17 loss to the Stars back on Oct. 5.
“When we played them we turned the ball over four times and made some critical penalties that hurt us,” Hanks said. “That was our big focus this week, just making sure we’re taking care of the ball and executing. They’re a good football team. We had to come out and play well.”
Class AAAA, Section 5 is a tough-as-nails bracket this season with an undefeated and No. 5-ranked Providence Academy as the No. 2 seed and top-seeded St. Paul Academy/Minnehaha Academy/Blake ranked No. 4 in the state. Providence Academy rolled to a 46-0 win over Richfield Tuesday and will face Benilde-St. Margaret’s Saturday. SMB got a first-round bye and will face fourth-seeded Orono, which squeaked by fifth-seeded Mound Westonka 23-17 Tuesday.