STAPLES -- With blood splattered about his face and still dripping from his finger, Jake Wagner stood on the south end of the Staples-Motley Cardinals football field wearing a satisfied look.
The soft-spoken leader of the second-seeded Cardinals looked across the muddied, ripped up field where he and his teammates had just thrashed the third-seeded Albany Huskies 36-0 in the Section 6, Class 3A semifinals Saturday.
Wagner and the Cardinals (8-2) dominated Albany (7-3) from the second play of scrimmage as junior Joe Smith broke 64 yards for the game's first score.
From there, S-M rolled.
Staples-Motley 36, Albany 0
Key: A suffocating Cardinal defense held Albany to just 105 yards of total offense
Overall: SM 8-2, A 7-3
Next game: Staples-Motley vs. Sauk Center in the Section 6, Class 3A Championship at St. Cloud State University, 5 p.m. Friday.
The defense, led by Wagner from his inside linebacker position held Albany to 11 first-half yards and just one first down. That first down didn't come until 2:59 left in the second quarter. Of Albany's 24 offensive plays, 16 went for zero or negative yards. The Huskies managed just .5 yards a play.
"We were just trying to make piles," said Wagner. "The defensive line just nailed their pulling guards coming at our outside backers. It was 11 men playing as one and that's what we try to do."
On the offensive end, the Cardinals couldn't be stopped. On its second possession, S-M went 48 yards on seven plays for a Andy Mertens 1-yard touchdown run.
Smith opened the second quarter with a one-yard scoring plunge and later found Josh Anderson on a 32-yard touchdown pass for a 30-0 halftime lead.
"There's always talk about how good Albany gets off the ball and how good they are and how big they are and how quick they are," said Cardinals coach Ryan Beachy. "Our kids were so prepared this week. We watched so much film. We flat out did everything we needed to do inside the tackles.
"We flat out said we're going to give them nothing. Ten yards in the first half isn't bad."
The Cardinals gathered 291 yards of offense on 28 plays for a 10.4 yards-per-play average. S-M had five plays of 25 yards or more and only punted once.
"Everybody was on the right page today," said Beachy. "Joey Smith made so many audibles. I give him the freedom to do that. You can't argue with a quarterback that has some brains and has the athletic ability to back it up."
The second half was much of the same as S-M tallied one more score on a Smith one-yard run and held Albany to just 105 yards and five first downs. Smith finished with 137 yards rushing and 104 yards passing. Albany totaled just 115 yards, much to the credit of Wagner and the Cardinals front eight.
"Jake's fingernail ripped off the first play of the game," said Beachy. "The other coaches were asking if Jake was going to be able to play and Jake goes, 'Yeah.' He had no problem with that. He just taped it up and he was ready to go.
"Jake doesn't say much, but he proves it on the field. He can hit harder than many people."
S-M, which rushed for 323 yards and grabbed 18 first downs, plays Sauk Centre 5 p.m. Friday at St. Cloud State University in the section final. Should they beat Sauk Centre, who beat Melrose 35-8 in the other semifinal, Wagner can once again wow the Cardinal crowd.
"We just came out to play the best that we can and do everything as well as possible," said Wagner. "This is great because we have 14 seniors that don't want to end their season yet."
Albany 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Staples-Motley 14 16 6 0 -- 36
SM-Joe Smith 64 run (Jake Wagner 33 run) 11:10
SM-Andy Mertens 1 run (run failed) 6:42
SM-Smith 1 run (Smith run) 10:50
SM-Josh Anderson 32 pass from Smith (Smith run) 6:24
SM-Smith 1 run (run failed) 4:26
Rush att-yds -- SM 48-323; A 39-85
Pass comp-att-int-yds -- SM 4-5-1-104; A 5-13-1-30
Total offense -- SM 53-427; A 52-115
Rushing -- SM-Andy Mertens 11-41, Joe Smith 11-137, Jake Wagner 9-69, Jordan Olson 5-47, Beau Pilgrim 6-24, Nathan Rinas 1-0, Nathan Warner 4-3, Matt Edin 1-2; A-Ben Douvier 21-80, Derik Funk 8-16, Cameron Stromme 4-4, Justin Shay 1-7, Eric Harlander 5-(-22)
Passing -- SM-Smith 4-5-104; A-Harlander 5-12-30, Ben Kasner 0-1-0
Receiving -- SM-Mertens 1-20, Chris Jansson 1-29, Josh Anderson 1-32, Beau Pilgrim 1-14; A-Stromme 1-4, Josh Wolford 1-9, Bryce Rushmeyer 1-8, Josh Overman 1-12, Douvier 1-(-3)
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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