Combining an experienced quarterback, with inexperienced offensive and defensive lines, turned out to be the ingredients of a Brainerd Warriors victory.
Second-year starting quarterback Mitch McLain ran for three touchdowns and 116 yards as Brainerd won its season opener 28-20 over the veteran Rocori Spartans at Adamson Field Friday night.
McLain and tackle Jake Kassulker were the only returning offensive starters. Linebackers Logan McAllister and Kassulker were the only returning defensive starters.
“I think the story was the patchwork offensive line and defensive lines, I really do,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. “We didn’t have one player on the defensive line that played at all last year, at all.
“Offensively, Jake got tired because we had to play him both ways. He got cramps. We played a sophomore center. The kids gutted it out. We’ll take that.”
Brainerd built a 28-6 lead before the Spartans punched in two scores in the final 4-plus minutes. Rocori gained 165 of its 297 total yards in the fourth quarter.
“You could tell it was a first game for everyone,” McLain said. “We put a lot of kids in a lot of positions. We told them to go out and play hard. (Rocori) did come back late in the game but in the long run we had them.”
The Warriors’ defense forced Rocori’s no-huddle, spread offense into two turnovers and gave the offense prime field position. Four Brainerd possessions began in Spartans territory.
Lineman Levi Rubin recovered a third-quarter fumble and sophomore defensive back Cole Smith intercepted a pass, also in the third. Kassulker and McAllister registered sacks during the same series in the second quarter.
McLain opened the scoring with a 73-yard run early in the first. Operating out of the shotgun, he rammed into the line, found an opening and was off to the races along the far sideline.
“I got the right read, and busted it outside,” McLain said. “I had two great blocks, from Jimmy Giese and Dustin Borlaug. It was just open grass all the way from there.”
McLain tallied again late in the second quarter on a 2-yard run. He threw a 2-point conversion pass to Logan Davis for a 14-0 lead.
Rocori quarterback Nate Meyer, one of nine returning Spartans on offense and nine on defense, got the Spartans on the board with a 1-yard plunge 40 seconds before halftime.
The Warriors then scored 14 unanswered points. Sophomore running back Conor Gessell burst five yards for a TD with 3:05 left in the third. McLain barreled into the end zone from a yard out on the second play of the fourth for a 28-6 edge.
“I was pretty pleased with the play, when you think of the number of kids who had their first varsity play,” Stolski said. “I don’t remember when we’ve had this much inexperience. I was pretty pleased with the effort of the kids, especially defensively. The final score won’t reflect that, but our defense played awfully well.”
The Warriors received a boost from special teams. Kicker Andrew Olson booted two extra points and averaged 53 yards per kickoff, including a touchback. Giese averaged 42 yards per punt.
“We had a good feeling about our special teams, and you could see it tonight,” Stolski said. “Our punt game gave us a lot of advantages tonight.”
Rocori 0 6 0 14 — 20
Brainerd 6 8 7 7 — 28
Brd-Mitch McLain 73 run 7:56 (kick fails)
Brd-McLain 2 run (Logan Davis pass from McLain) 4:08
Roc-Nate Meyer 1 run (kick fails) :40
Brd-Conor Gessell 5 run (Andrew Olson kick) 3:05
Brd-McLain 1 run (Olson kick) 11:24
Roc-Sam Moriarty 3 run (Sean Terres pass from Mac Muller) 4:15
Roc-Meyer 1 run 0:00
First downs: Brd 13, Roc 13
Rushing yards: Brd 280, Roc 49
Passing yards: Brd 38, Roc 248
Total offense: Brd 318, Roc 297
Rushing: Brd, Mitch McLain 18-116, Nick Welch 15-77, Jackson Dols 1-4, Dax VanSteenwyk 1-2, Logan Davis 7-24, Conor Gessell 6-52, Luke Boran 1-13; Roc, Sam Moriarty 13-27, Muller 8-35
Passing: Brd, McLain 5-10-1-32, Boran 1-1-0-6
Receiving: Brd, Tom Olson 2-12, Dustin Borlaug 1-6, Welch 1-3, Davis 1-8, Gessell 1-9
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.