ST. CLOUD — The No. 1 seeded Central Lakes Raiders hopes for a state championship could have come down to one play in the MCAC state championship game on Sunday afternoon at St. Cloud State University’s Husky Stadium.
The Raiders were driving to the No. 2 seeded Rochester Yellowjackets goal line, clinging to a 19-17 lead over the most potent offense in the division.
CLC had taken over the ball on the Yellowjackets 47 yard line and five plays later were on the 13. But a fumble by Sean Nokken and a bad bounce of the ball into the hands of Rochester linebacker Joe Strike resulted in an 87-yard touchdown return and a 23-19 lead for Rochester.
Anthony Shelman quickly restored order, and put momentum squarely back into the Raiders hands with a 75 yard return for touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. After the kick, CLC was up 26-17, and never looked back from there as they went on to capture the state championship with a 33-23 win.
“We were going to go up by 10 points if we scored and we fumbled and I will admit that I was down,” said quarterback Andrew Johnson. “But then Anthony busted a kick return and gave us the momentum right back.”
“It was amazing the flow of the game and the emotions that come into play,” said head coach Greg Medeck of the sequence of plays. “Our guys are resilient and they have been that way all year long. We took a shot there when we are marching all the way down the field, and then they score on a fluke play. But then with Anthony’s touchdown we took the momentum back and took it the rest of the way. That was the defining moment in the game.”
This was the classic match up for the championship as CLC entered the game ranked 12th in the NJCAA poll while Rochester sat at 14th in the ranking. The Yellowjackets had also won three of the last five state championships, and 11 in the last 15 years.
The two teams had matched up for three battles in the state title game with Rochester winning 39-18 in 2007. The Raiders came back with a 20-14 overtime win in 2009, and Rochester went up in the series with a 34-31 win in 2010.
“It’s so hard to put into words,” Medeck said. “It has been a long 24 hours just to lead up to this game. We sat up in the conference coaches meeting last night, and having to discuss these important variables as far as the direction of our conference and promoting our players for the individual awards. At the same time we are focusing on beating this team twice (the Raiders won 31-23 earlier in the season) which is unheard of. There have been a lot of emotions and it really paid off.”
Johnson threw for three scores and ran for another score finishing 10-23 or 170 yards and just one interception. Beau Bellmore caught one of the touchdown throws, and also gained 117 yards on 31 carries.
Turnovers were one of the keys in the first game, and the Raiders won that battle decisively in the second meeting. They intercepted Rochester quarterbacks six times, including two from Matt Mogere.
“We did what we had to do in practicing all week long, and all year long,” Mogere said of preparing for the three quarterbacks that the Yellowjackets play. “We executed and did what we needed to do today. It takes a whole bunch of practice and at least two hours of film each day. We were well coached and that is what it came down to.”
Things did not start off that well for CLC as Rochester got the first touchdown of the game on an 18-yard pass from Kevin Monkam to Josh Zitzmann for a 7-0 first-quarter lead. The Raiders came right back on the ensuing possession and Bellmore and Johnson hooked up for the 18 yard completion. The kick failed and it was 7-6.
The defense got a takeaway in the second quarter when ClC recovered a fumble on the 37 yard line. It took just one play with Brandon Kiel catching a 37 yard strike from Johnson for a 12-7 lead.
The Yellowjackets got a 21 yard field goal from Fafa Asante, and a three yard run from Monkam as time was expiring in the half.
Michael Sparish caught a three yard pass from Johnson for the Raiders other score and a 19-17 halftime lead for CLC.
After the two teams traded scores on the fumble return from the Yellowjackets, and the kickoff return from Shelman, the Raiders put the game away with a two yard run from Johnson for a 33-23 lead with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
All that remained was the final seconds to tick off, and a Gatorade shower for coach Medeck from his players.
“They have a lot of weapons and that is a great team that we just beat,” Medeck said. “But we have good, hard working, disciplined character guys and they have so much pride in the way they play. They deserve every bit of what they got today.”
“We came out fired and emotion was high,” said Johnson. “It might have been a little too high and we were kind of playing out of character with how we usually do. But we settled down in to the game and controlled our emotions and came out with a win.”
Mogere was happy that the season journey, and trip down to St. Cloud was a successful one. “It has been fantastic. We came here to win and that is what we did. Our main goal was to leave here as champions.”
Central Lakes 6 13 7 7 — 33
Rochester 7 10 6 0 — 23
RCTC — Josh Zitzmann 18 pass from Kevin Monkam (Fafa Asante kick) 9:12
CLC — Beau Bellmore 18 pass from Andrew Johnson (kick failed) 5:05
CLC — Brandon Kiel 37 pass from Johnson (conversion failed) 13:06
RCTC — Asante 21 field goal 10:01
CLC — Michael Sparish 3 pass from Johnson (Leonhardt kick) 1:48
RCTC — Monkam 3 run (Asante kick) :03
RCTC — Joe Strike 87 fumble return (conversion failed) 5:57
CLC — Anthony Shelman 75 kickoff return (Leonhardt kick) 5:38
CLC — Johnson 2 run (Leonhardt kick) 5:51
Rushes-yards: CLC 49-183, R 24-118
Pass comp-att-int-yds: CLC 10-23-1-170, R 14-47-6-198
Total offense: CLC 353, R 316
Rushing: CLC-Bellmore 31-117, Johnson 14-67, R- Monkam 9-49
Passing: CLC-Johnson 10-23-1-170, R-Monkam 12-35-5-183
Receiving: CLC-Bellmore 3-27, Kiel 2-72, Blake Petrich 2-17 R-Zitzmann 6-124.