Week 10 Recap: Blaine
Quarterback Colin O’Connor threw for three touchdowns, all in the first half, as the Prior Lake Lakers cruised to a 49-14 win over Blaine Nov. 3 at Dan Patch Stadium to advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2014.
It’s big since we have missed out the last couple years,” Prior Lake coach Matt Gegenheimer said. “This team deserves to be in the state tournament.”
The Lakers (7-3) got on the board fast against the Bengals (6-4) as, four plays in, running back/linebacker Spencer Shaver took the ball 46 yards, all the way down to the 1-yard line. Running back Jordan Johnson scored a couple plays later but the two-point conversion attempt was no good, making the score 6-0 Lakers less than three minutes into the game.
However, the Bengals answered back moments later when quarterback Connor Melton rolled to his left and found wide receiver Sam Browne behind the Laker defense. Browne took off down the Blaine sideline and into the end zone, giving Blaine its only lead of the game at 7-6 after the extra point.
“We knew they could score fast and a lot of points, but there was never any panic on the sideline,” Prior Lake coach Matt Gegenheimer said. “The defense has played well all year so we know we can count on them.”
Prior Lake was forced to punt the ball back to Blaine on the ensuing possession.
With the Bengals facing a third-and-long near midfield, Melton fired to his right, looking for a receiver who was well covered. The ball sailed over the receiver’s head and into the waiting arms of cornerback Jordan Olson, who intercepted the pass.
The Lakers then began a march down the field for their next score. With the ball on the Blaine 36-yard line, O’Connor dropped back to pass and connected with running back Preston Jelen, who caught the ball in stride at the 10-yard line and sprinted into the end zone to get Prior Lake the lead back for good at 12-6.
The Prior Lake defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession but the ensuing Laker drive stalled due to a Shaver fumble.
Once again, however, the Laker defense didn’t let the Blaine offense, who entered the game averaging about 35 points per game, move the ball and forced a punt.
Prior Lake had good field position near midfield after a short punt and O’Connor connected with Shaver on a long gain, all the way down to the Blaine 10-yard line, setting the Lakers up with first-and-goal.
The next play was one of many highlights of the night as O’Connor rolled to his right, looked back to his left, and threw a “jump ball” to tight end Hunter Koenig, who went up and got the ball over the Blaine cornerback at the goal line for the Laker touchdown. Dylan Bair ran in the two-point attempt to widen the Prior Lake lead to 20-7 with 7:36 left in the first half.
After yet another great three-and-out by the Laker defense, Prior Lake’s offense put together a 6-play 44-yard drive, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Johnson, who danced his way through the Bengal defense and into the end zone. Jelen ran in the two-point attempt, increasing the lead to 28-7 with 4:24 to go in the first half.
The Bengals were backed up near their goal line to start their next possession and the Laker defense took full advantage, forcing a three-and-out and impacting the resulting punt that went out of bounds at the 15-yard line, setting the Prior Lake offense up in the red zone.
Two plays later, was the catch that many in Laker Nation have been talking about and is up for KARE 11’s Hot Highlights this week. O’Connor threw over the middle, looking for wide receiver Spencer Marlier, who jumped and reached high above his head and corralled the ball while getting hit by a Bengal defender in the end zone for the touchdown.
“It was a great catch and big for us to get a passing touchdown.” Gegenheimer said. “It was big to extend the lead just before half.”
Derek Kay ran in the two-point conversion attempt to make the score 36-7, which remained at halftime.
Blaine finally put a drive together to start the third quarter but it stalled when the Prior Lake defense made a stop at the Laker 39-yard line.
Three plays later, Jelen broke off a 53-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Blaine defense, pushing the lead to 42-7.
The Laker defense made a stop on the next possession and Jelen capped an 8-play 33-yard Prior Lake drive with a 14-yard touchdown run, where he dove over the pylon. The game was effectively over at 49-7 with 3:34 left to go in the third quarter.
Blaine scored a fourth quarter touchdown to reach the 49-14 final score.
The Lakers were successful on all sides of the ball, something Gegenheimer knows is key to the team’s success.
“Playing complete games are huge, especially at this point in the season,” Gegenheimer said. “Our guys have a lot of confidence right now, which is huge in the postseason.”
O’Connor led the Laker passing attack, going 6 for 8 for 145 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
O’Connor did not play for much of the early part of the season due to an illness and Gegenheimer likes what he’s seen from his young quarterback.
“Colin is finally getting more comfortable and confident in his role,” Gegenheimer said of O’Connor. “He is turning into a very good quarterback for us that can manage the offense and make the throws we need him to make.”
Jelen was the leading receiver and rusher for the Lakers as he had three catches for 89 yards and 103 rushing yards on nine carries.
“Preston does it all for us,” Gegenheimer said of Jelen. “He is one of the better players on the field each week and teams have to account for him running and receiving the ball, which is challenging.”
Shaver finished with 80 yards on 15 carries while Johnson had 73 yards on nine carries.
Linebacker Noah Benson was the leading tackler on defense with seven, while Ryder Folsom and Zach Wick each had six.
The celebration was on as soon as the game ended with the Prior Lake students rushing the field as activities director Russ Reetz handed the state qualifier plaque to the Laker captains and “Winning” by Santana blared through the speakers.
“It was exciting, primarily for the players because they earned and deserved to have this experience,” Gegenheimer said.
As has been addressed in prior weeks, this year’s trip to state has a different feel than other years because of the struggles the team dealt with early in the year.
“After Week 4, we weren’t in a good place (at 1-3),” Gegenheimer said. “A credit to (the players), they stuck together and kept working.”
With the win, the Lakers will take on Minnetonka at Osseo High School Nov. 10 in the state quarterfinals.
The next opponent: Minnetonka
The Lakers will face a familiar foe this week as they take on Minnetonka in the state quarterfinals Nov. 10 at Osseo High School.
The Skippers (9-1) and the Lakers (7-3) met in Week 4 at Dan Patch Stadium, a 27-8 Minnetonka win.
That game happens to be the last time the Lakers lost a game, having won six straight games since that September night.
“We learned a lot from the first time we played them and now we feel we are a completely different team,” Gegenheimer said.
The Skipper offense is led by quarterback Aaron Syverson who completed 97 of 151 passes during the regular season to go along with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Syverson finished 11 for 19 for 108 yards when the teams met earlier in the year.
Minnetonka’s ground attack is also strong, led by running back Adam Livingston who had 830 yards on 164 carries and 14 touchdowns during the regular season. Livingston had 32 carries for 155 yards and three touchdowns against the Lakers in Week 4.
“Minnetonka is a very good team in every aspect of the game,” Gegenheimer said. “They are very talented on offense and a team that can score a lot of points.”
The winner of Friday’s game will play the winner of Edina vs. Cretin-Derham Hall at U.S. Bank Stadium Nov. 17.
A chance at history
If the Lakers can pull out a win over Minnetonka Friday, they will have advanced further than any Prior Lake team has gone in the history of the program.
All three prior state tournament appearances for the Lakers have come since 2011, all losses in the quarterfinals: 21-17 to Totino-Grace in 2011, 23-3 to Lakeville North in 2012 and 10-7 to Maple Grove in 2014.
“These guys are pretty self-motivated; they know that winning a state game is a big deal and something we haven’t been able to do yet,” Gegenheimer said. “This team is special and they still are very motivated to keep working hard and continue to play as many more games as we can.”
Kickoff against Minnetonka on Friday is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Osseo High School.
If you can’t make it to the game, you can watch the online video stream from MN Prep Spotlight at http://www.prepspotlight.tv/mshsl.
NOTE: The game will not be streamed on The Cube this week, only on MN Prep Spotlight.
Follow @plhsfootball and @pllakers on Twitter for updates.
Be sure to check back next week for a recap of the Minnetonka game and (if the Lakers win) a preview of the state semifinal matchup.
Taylor Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @taysmith2013.
Photo credit: Russ Reetz