ST. CLOUD — After Noel Teigen’s acrobatic 23-yard reception in the end zone pulled St. Cloud Apollo within six points, the Eagles and their homecoming crowd were stoked.
The winless Eagles thought they were possibly on the verge of snapping an 8-game losing streak against Brainerd that dates back to 2004. But the Warriors responded with a long, sustained touchdown drive, stifling Apollo’s hopes and registering a 28-14 Central Lakes Conference win Friday night.
Teigen scored with 8:49 left to play but the Warriors stayed on task on their way to their fourth straight win. Brainerd engineered a 13-play, 87-yard scoring drive — all on the ground — which Conor Gessell ended with a 26-yard TD run with 3:30 remaining. Gessell also caught a 2-point conversion pass from quarterback Luke Boran after Apollo was penalized on the initial conversion attempt.
Brainerd’s defense then forced Apollo to go four and out on its final possession.
“Coach said we had to get it and that’s what we were going to do,” Warriors offensive lineman and tri-captain Jon Asprey said. “We went out there giving it everything we’ve got to get that last drive.”
The Warriors made four first downs before Gessell’s touchdown saddled Apollo with its fifth straight loss.
“They’ve got a tough defense, they have some real skilled kids on offense,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said of Apollo. “I’m really surprised they’re 0-5, I really am. They’ve got kids who can catch, they didn’t turn it over at all and they have done that.
“Hats off to them but also to us. We played gritty football. It takes a lot when you had as many carries as we had and you don’t put it on the ground. Hats off to our kids. We’ll celebrate this for the weekend.
“We do need to be more consistent on taking advantage. We keep seeing these fronts. We had some people running free and we didn’t get (the ball) to them. Sometimes we didn’t have enough time. We need to shore that part of our game up because it’s a good part of our game.”
Brainerd dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Warriors ran 69 offensive plays while limiting Apollo to 44 plays and 201 total yards. The result was a pounding, sustained running game that produced 354 yards, 406 yards in all. All four Brainerd scores, three by Gessell and one by Boran, were on running plays.
The offensive line of Alex Evanson, Zach Shepersky, Billy Desrocher, Asprey, Alex DeRosier and Logan McElfresh opened nice lanes for Warrior backs to run through. As a result of their success on the ground, Boran attempted only nine passes.
Boran finished with 137 yards rushing on 21 carries. Gessell bolted for 120 yards on 19 attempts. Logan Davis added 82 yards on 17 runs.
“We were just getting off the ball well and taking it to them,” Asprey said. “We were spreading the holes, making it able for the backs to run.”
Apollo threatened to open the scoring at 5:05 of the first quarter when Teigen intercepted Boran and returned it 30 yards to the Brainerd 30. But the Warriors’ defense stiffened and Cory Waldron was forced to try a 38-yard field goal that fell way short.
The Warriors promptly scored on an 11-play, length of the field possession that Gessell concluded with a 6-yard run.
Apollo tied it on the next series. On third and three from the Brainerd 30, Eagles quarterback Ben Alvord found Kyle Rosenthal for a 30-yard TD reception with 8:05 to go until halftime.
Brainerd bounced right back, running eight straight plays and Gessell scored on a 10-yard spurt to give the Warriors a 14-7 halftime edge. The half ended with Brainerd on the Eagles’ 3 as time expired.
With 4:37 left in the third, Boran ran 17 yards for a score but McElfresh’s point after kick was blocked, giving Brainerd a 20-7 edge, which stood until Teigen’s highlight-reel catch early in the fourth. Alvord fueled the drive with a 21-yard pass to Rosenthal, a 17-yard scramble on fourth and 8 and a 17-yard pass to Jeremy Koffi. Alvord finished 10 of 16 passing for 133 yards.
Brainerd heads into its homecoming Oct. 6 against St. Michael-Albertville with a head of steam after reeling off four straight wins since a season-opening loss to Rocori.
“Coming in with four wins is huge, especially bouncing back after a tough first game,” Asprey said. “They’re going to be a good team and we’re going to be ready for them.”
Brainerd 0 14 6 8 — 28
Apollo 0 7 0 7 — 14
Brd-Conor Gessell 6 run (Logan McElfresh kick) 11:39
SCA-Kyle Rosenthal 30 pass from Ben Alvord (Cory Waldron kick) 8:05
Brd-Gessell 10 run (McElfresh kick) 5:05
Brd-Luke Boran 17 run (kick fails) 4:37
SCA-Noel Teigen 23 pass from Alvord (Waldron kick) 8:49
Brd-Gessell 26 run (Gessell pass from Boran) 3:03
Rushes-yards: Brd 60-354, SCA 28-68
Pass comp-att-int-yds: Brd 4-9-1-52, SCA 10-16-0-133
Total offense: Brd 406, SCA 201
Fumbles-lost: Brd 0-0, SCA 2-0
Rushing: Brd-Luke Boran 21-137, Conor Gessell 19-120, Logan Davis 17-82,
Mason Severson 2-12, Matt Ramerth 1-3; SCA-Derek Alexander 16-72
Passing: Brd-Boran 4-9-52, SCA-Alvord 10-16-133
Receiving: Brd-Isaiah Smith 2-17, Grant Reuer 1-15, Logan Davis 1-20;
SCA-Noel Teigen 3-35, Kyle Rosenthal 4-64, Jeremy Koffi 2-34.
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.