by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
With equal parts of composure and combativeness, the Rogers Royals fended off the Delano Tigers 29-14 to capture their third straight section football crown Saturday.
The Royals’ ability to counter-punch was crucial as they answered each Delano touchdown with one of their own in the Section 5AAAA finals at St. Cloud State.
The Royals’ deep, agile, aggressive offensive line made everything click as they piled up 350 yards, all on the ground.
“We asked the kids to be physical for four quarters and they responded,” said Royal coach Marc Franz. “Delano is a heckuva football team.They’ve got great balance and big-play guys. So I was real happy with how we competed. Delano would score, and we would always answer.”
The Royals, state runners-up last year, face Rocori in the first round of state, Thursday at 7 p.m., back at SCSU. Both teams are 9-1.
“We’re always confident that if we play like we can, we can beat anybody in the state,” said Jack McGuire, who had an outstanding game carrying the ball.
Kyle Williams bucked for 167 yards on 20 carries, and McGuire slashed for 133 more on 14 carries plus a 70-yard kickoff return. Quarterback Matt Weber sneaked for two touchdowns. Williams and Mitch O’Neill each had a six-yard TD run.
“Our line was blocking at their best all year,” said McGuire. “Everything was working, sweeps, traps, everything. Our line made it go.”
Franz affirmed: “Kyle and Jack had good games and the quarterback, too, so guess who gets credit for that: the offensive line.”
Clearing holes for the Royals were Jamal Brown at center; Taylor McAlpine, Clay LeVasseur and David Miller at guard; Lucas Bellflower, Hayden Sebald, and Miller at tackle; and Austin Barbeln and Michael Schrieber at tight end.
“Those are the guys who make the ball move,” said Franz.
Delano quarterback Cody Mathisen hit 15 of 29 passes for 191 yards, and tossed his 17th and 18th touchdowns of the season.
But the Royal defense kept the Tiger ground game in check with 81 net yards on 31 carries, while sacking Mathisen four times. Austin Derouin got him twice, and Weber and Cyrus Biah one each. The Royals made one interception, by Austin Barbel, with three minutes left to clinch the win.
“We had a good team effort,” said linebacker Clay LeVassuer. “They (Delano) had a good deep threat and they hit it once, down in the end zone, and we adjusted to that. They had a good running threat and we seemed to stuff that, too.”
Rogers opened the scoring on O’Neill’s six-yard jaunt around end on their first offensive, capping a 47-yard drive after a Delano fumble. In the second quarter, McGuire’s 31-yard advance on a 4th-and-two play put the ball on the Tiger 12 and Weber sneaked in four plays later. Nate Roehl’s PAT run made it 15-0.
With a pesky wind whipping off the adjacent Mississippi, Delano didn’t throw much in the first quarter, but with the wind at their backs in the second, Mathison limbered up his arm.
An apparent 30-yard TD pass to Garrett Shelley, covered by Rogers’ ace defensive back Andrew Smith, was waved off as officials said Shelley was beyond the back line of the end zone. No matter to Mathison, as he hit fullback Zach Checkal on the sideline for a 30-yard score two plays later.
Unfazed, the Royals were quickly back in business as McGuire bolted 70 yards with the ensuing kickoff to the Delano 12. “Our special team guys made a big hole for me and that’s how I was able to that one back,” said McGuire, who saw daylight on the right sideline and almost broke it all the way.
Williams scored from the six, and Rogers was up 22-7 at the half.
Mathisen took the Tigers to pay dirt again in the third quarter, bolting 38 yards on a scramble and then threading a 15-yard TD to Reese Isenberg.
Again, the Royals countered, with a 60-yard march including a 22-yard run by Williams, a 15-yard run by Kent Hoover, and Weber’s second QB sneak for the score.
And now it’s on to state.
“This has been a great ride, and we’ve extended our season again,” said LeVasseur. “It’s all business now.”
While the No. 7 ranked Royals and No. 10 Rocori square off, the other pairings are No. 6 Spring Lake Park (9-1) vs. No. 3 Bemidji (10-0), No. 1 Mankato West (10-0) vs. No. 9 South St. Paul (9-1), and Faribault (7-3) vs. Hill-Murray (8-2). The Rogers-Rocori winner faces the Faribault-Hill-Murray winner in the semifinals Nov. 19 at the Dome.
Rocori ousted Sartell-St. Stephen 37-13 in their section final Saturday evening. Sartell-St. Stephen, whom Rogers beat 36-18, is their only common opponent.
Rogers 29, Delano 14
Delano ………… 0 7 7 0 – 14
Rogers ………… 7 15 7 0 – 29
Rog–Mitch O’Neill 6 run (Mitch Grupa kick)
Rog–Matt Weber 1 run (Nate Roehl run)
Del–Zach Checkal 30 pass from Cody Mathisen (Checkal kick)
Rog–Kyle Williams 6 run (Grupa kick)
Del–Reese Isenberg 15 pass from Mathisen (Checkal kick)
Rog–Weber 1 run (Grupa kick)
Rushing – Rogers 53-350, Delano 31-81
Passing – Rogers 0-3-0-0, Delano 15-30-191-1
Total yards – Rogers 350, Delano 272
Turnovers – Rogers 1 (fumble), Delano 2 (fumble, interception)
Penalties – Rogers 8-65, Delano 2-10
Rushing – Bryan Sinkel 9-41,Checkal 7-21, Mathisen 13-11
Passing – Mathisen 15-29-191-1
Receiving – Checkal 4-56, Eric Bergund 1-29, Isenberg 4-61, Christian Triplet 1-21, Ben Ditty 1-3, Toby Hanson 1-16, Garrett Shelly 2-21, Sinkel 1-4
Fumble recovery – Isenberg 1
Sacks – Aaron Klaers 2
Punts – Checkal 2-28.0
Rushing – Williams 20-167, McGuire 14-133, Weber 12-37, O’Neill 1-6, Kent Hoover 3-12, Roehl 4-(-2)
Passing – Weber 0-3-0-0
Interception – Austin Barbeln
Fumble recovery – name not available
Sacks – Austin Derouin 2, Cyrus Biah 1, Weber 1
Punts – Josh Malin 3-32.0