Six turnovers spoiled the Brainerd Warriors’ homecoming game on a crisp, windy Saturday afternoon.
Riding a 4-game win streak, the Warriors fumbled the ball away three times and were intercepted three times as the St. Michael-Albertville Knights pounced on the mistakes to post a 31-20 victory at Adamson Field.
The Knights converted five of the six miscues into all 31 points. They led 14-7 at the half. Following a scoreless third quarter, they reeled off 17 straight points to seize a 31-7 edge with 6:50 remaining.
“In the first five games of the year we only created three takeaways, today we had six,” Knights coach Jared Essler said. “One of them’s a touchdown, one of them we got a short field in the red zone, the first play of the game momentum was all in our favor, so (turnovers were) the difference. It’s the biggest statistic between winning and losing games.”
Brainerd, which scored in the final minute of the first half, didn’t score again until the game’s final three minutes. It was the Warriors’ first homecoming loss since 1995, ending a stretch of 16 straight wins.
“I feel really badly for the kids,” Warriors head coach Ron Stolski said. “Obviously, this was not the way they wanted their homecoming game to be.”
Last week, the Knights let a previously winless Buffalo team pin a 15-13 defeat on them in StMA’s homecoming game. StMA turned the ball over three times in that game but only twice Saturday and none cost them points.
“We maybe played the kind of game they played last week,” Stolski said. “They turned it over a lot against Buffalo. Those things happen unfortunately.”
Four of the Knights’ scoring drives started inside the Brainerd 45.
An omen of what the day would be like for Brainerd occurred on the game’s first play. Brainerd fumbled the kickoff return and the Knights recovered at the Brainerd 25. The Knights’ Dallas Freeman punched in the game’s first score with a 4-yard run.
On the second play of the second quarter, the Knights punted and Brainerd fumbled on the return, and StMA recovered at the Warriors’ 41. The possession ended with a 31-yard pass from quarterback Cole Krutzig to wide receiver Brian Ferry who made a leaping catch over Warrior defenders.
Late in the second quarter, Brainerd began a 12-play, 85-yard march to the end zone. Two Luke Boran passes totalling 45 yards sparked the possession, which ended when Logan Davis tallied on a 2-yard run for the halftime score.
The Warriors had an opportunity to tie the game on their first possession of the third quarter. But the drive stalled at the StMA 12 when Boran was sacked for an 8-yard loss on fourth down.
“We feel our strength is our defensive front,” Essler said. “I thought those kids came to play today. We’re hiding some kids on the back end with some injuries but we didn’t give up any home runs, anything over the top.”
After the teams traded possessions, StMA intercepted for the first time, and Jacob Moran returned it 13 yards to the Brainerd 40. Justin McLain kicked a 30-yard field goal to give the Knights a 17-7 lead with 8:08 left in the fourth.
Three plays later, Sean Scharlau intercepted and returned it to the Brainerd 17. Following a 16-yard rush by Brendan Poland, Bennie Wilson barreled into the end zone from a yard out and it was 24-7 with 7:27 left.
Two plays later, Moran intercepted again, and this time returned it 19 yards for a score and a 31-7 bulge.
Brainerd scored on its final two possessions. Logan Davis ran 1 yard for one TD and Logan McElfresh ran 12 yards for the other.
The Warriors finished with a 307-277 edge in total yards and led in first downs 21-17.
“There were some bright spots,” Stolski said. “As odd as it may sound, defensively we played pretty well.”
The defeat could come back to haunt Brainerd when the Section 5-6A playoffs begin Oct. 26.
“The only reason I’m even concerned about seeding — typically we never are — is that within 10 days (the regular season’s) over, and the fact we don’t have much of a choice but to look south at what’s going on,” Stolski said.
“We have feared from the outset that we wouldn’t get a home game (in the section quarterfinals),” he added. “It’s not the worst thing in the world but it’s good for our fans. Look at that crowd today, it was an incredible crowd. On behalf of our team and our staff, thanks to the people who supported us.”
StMA 7 7 0 17 — 31
Brainerd 0 7 0 13 — 20
StMA-Dallas Freeman 4 run (Justin McLain kick) 10:12
StMA-Brian Ferry 31 pass from Cole Krutzig (McLain kick) 9:57
Brd-Logan Davis 2 run (Logan McElfresh kick) :55
StMA-McLain 30 FG, 8:08
StMA-Bennie Wilson 1 run (McLain kick) 7:27
StMA-Jacob Moran 19 interception return (McLain kick) 6:50
Brd-Davis 1 run (L. McElfresh kick) 2:38
Brd-L. McElfresh 12 run (kick fails) :37
First downs: StMA 17, Brd 21
Rushes-yards: StMA 47-197, Brd 46-202
Pass comp-att-int-yds: StMA 6-17-1-80, Brd 11-17-3-105
Total offense: StMA 277, Brd 307
Punts-avg: StMA 5-29.8, Brd 3-30.7
Return yards: StMA 71, Brd 117
Fumbles-lost: StMA 2-1, Brd 3-3
Penalties-yds lost: StMA 6-65, Brd 3-20
Rushing: Brd-Luke Boran 19-81, Conor Gessell 12-61, Davis 13-38, Mason Severson 1-10, L. McElfresh 1-12; StMA-Cole Krutzig 13-58, Chris Kartes 18-78
Passing: Brd-Boran 11-17-105; StMA-Krutzig 6-17-80
Receiving: Brd-Isaiah Smith 3-14, Cole Smith 2-45, Grant Reuer 1-7, Gessell 2-21, Davis 2-5, Quinn McElfresh 1-13; StMA-Tony Bork 1-18, Ferry 4-62
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.