by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
A championship on the line — that’s the ultimate way to end the regular season.
The Rogers Royals had that chance Wednesday evening and came through with a 17-0 victory over Cambridge-Isanti at home, lifted by stellar special teams play along with a battering defense against the Bluejackets’ power running game, in a duel televised by Fox Sports North.
The Royals finished conference 6-1 for a share of the Mississippi 8 title with Monticello, which went 5-1 in the uneven schedule. Cambridge-Isanti was 5-2.
“It’s so cool to end the season like this,” said coach Marc Franz. “You win, and you win the conference, and if you lose, the other team wins the conference, and you’re playing a quality opponent like Cambridge. It was like a playoff atmosphere.”
The Royals extended their Mississippi 8 football dynasty. In the last four years, they are 24-3 in conference with two outright titles and two shared.
Working against a big Bluejacket line, the Royals had only two long gainers, Parker Veith’s 31-yard touchdown catch from Connor Henderson in the first quarter, and Gunnar Bloom’s 50-yard run in the fourth that didn’t lead to a touchdown.
However, the Royals kept hammering away and wound up with 221 yards rushing, led by Jake Owens with 93 yards on 21 carries.
And the Royal defense limited Cambridge-Isanti to 141 yards from scrimmage, while the kicking teams gave the Bluejackets awful field position most of the game.
“I could not be more proud of how the kids executed,” said Franz. “Cambridge is bigger than us and they were a one-loss team coming into this.”
About those special teams: Kent Hoover punted four times for a 46.8 yard average, including a 61-yarder that set the Bluejackets on their 10, and a 38-yarder to the coffin corner that pinned them on their 11. On kickoffs, Isaac Aanerud boomed two for touchbacks, plus a towering blast to the 3-yard-line that was returned only to the 15. Plus, Aanerud nailed a 41-yard field goal to start the scoring. The Royals didn’t block any punts but pressured the punter into a couple of short kicks.
Nate Weber contributed a one-yard touchdown run, a fumble recovery and a sack. Veith, along with his TD, made an interception. Reid Sagehorn broke up two downfield passes.
The Royals needed to gang-tackle Bluejacket fullback Chance Laidly, a 5-foot-8, 205-pound bowling bowl who ran for 211 yards a week earlier against Big Lake. That’s what they did. Laidly took multiple hits on almost every carry as he fought for 75 yards in 23 attempts. “If you try tackle him one-on-one, you’re going to lose that battle more often than not,” said Franz.
The Bluejackets threw more than they wanted, without much success, as John Solberg was 7-for-16 for 55 yards.
“They are a power running team, and we wanted to force them into something they are not comfortable with,” said Franz.
The Royals, 7-1 heading into playoffs Tuesday, are a conference championship team devoid of star players.
“It’s a true team effort. If you look at our stats, nobody is going to have great stats,” said Franz. “It’s one of the most unselfish teams I have been around. Nobody cares about stats or whether they start or sub in. The only thing they care about is the outcome of the game.”
Rogers was knocked off its perch by St. Michael-Albertville 28-14 at home Sept. 21, a week after almost losing to Buffalo (38-36). But the Royals turned around to hand Monticello its lone loss of the season 10-7 at the Magic homecoming and have now won four straight.
It was just a matter of getting back to work, said Franz about the aftermath of the STMA loss — along with bringing up a bit of Royal football history. He pointed out that the Royals’ last home loss was to STMA three years ago, and that wound up being the first time Rogers won the conference (shared) and went to state.
“We told the kids, one game does not decide things, so let’s get back to work.”
Rogers 17, Cambridge-Isanti 0
Cambridge-Isanti …… 0 0 0 0 — 0
Elk River …………….. 10 0 7 0 — 17
Rog — Isaac Aanerud 41 field goal
Rog — Parker Veith 31 pass from Connor Henderson (Mitch Grupa kick)
Rog — Nate Weber 1 run (Grupa kick)
First downs — Rogers 13, Cambridge-Isanti 8
Rushing — Rogers 44-221, Cambridge-Isanti 33-86
Passing — Rogers 3-12-35-1, Cambridge-Isanti 7-16-55-1
Penalties — Rogers 3-28, Cambridge-Isanti 3-15
Rushing — Chance Laidly 23-75, Sam Thomas 6-14
Passing — John Solberg 7-16-55-1
Receiving — Travis Holt 5-37, Hunter Vavra 1-12, Matt Swanson 1-6
Interception — Solberg
Fumble recovery — Darren DeBaere
Rushing — Jake Owens 21-93, Gunnar Bloom 4-57, Kent Hoover 2-18, Weber 6-16, Henderson 5-12, Levi Simpson 1-11, Adam Heyer 2-17, Austin Wood 1-5, Mitch Grupa 1-3, Reid Sagehorn 1-(-1)
Passing — Henderson 3-12-35-1
Receiving — Veith 1-31, Josh Malin 1-6, Grupa 1-(-2)
Interception — Veith
Fumble recovery — Weber
Sack — Weber
Mississippi 8 final
St. Michael-Albertville 3-3
Duluth East 1-4
Big Lake 1-5
Duluth Denfeld 0-5