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Storm miss out on miracle, fall in double overtime

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Willmar stuffs two-point conversion
to steal win

By Evan Michealson
& Mark Klaphake

Staff writer

The Storm football team brought out their punting unit with two minutes to play in their first home game against the Willmar Cardinals, facing a 20-7 deficit. Desperation mode had long set in, yet facing a steep yardage battle, Sauk Rapids-Rice was forced to punt the ball back to Willmar.
One message, uttered out loud by several players and coaches, was clear: Get the ball back. SRR forced a Cardinals fumble, kickstarting a massive, crowd-lifting rally that ultimately brought the North Central district matchup to overtime.
Unfortunately for the hard-working Storm, their comeback efforts fell short as Willmar stuffed SRR’s attempt at a game-winning 2-point conversion to steal a 35-34 double-overtime triumph Oct. 15 at Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School in Sauk Rapids.
“I’m proud of the fact we were down 20-0 and took that thing into overtime and earned the chance to play for a win,” said Phillip Klaphake, head coach. “What our team has to figure out now, and what we have to do as coaches, is figure out how to not put ourselves in holes.”
The memorable contest began with a strong three-and-out forced by the Storm defense, who were impeccable against Alex Schramm and the rush-heavy Cardinals offense, holding them to under 100 rushing yards as a team.
“We knew their QB was a pretty dynamic runner and we made a conscious effort to make their run game tough, and we did,” Klaphake said. “Defensively, for the most part, we were really good.”
However, the Storm struggled to capitalize on their surging defensive start, fumbling three times in the first quarter alone. Grasping the football tightly was not the only aspect of the game the Storm found difficulty doing, as the team also could not stay away from penalties. The hosts were called for 12 infractions compared to Willmar’s four.
“When our team plays well and we click, we’re pretty dynamic,” Klaphake said. “But right now, we’re a rollercoaster and we have to stabilize that a little bit. We have to be a little more consistent.”
Jacob Rosendahl reeled in a 27-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, and Xavier Wickliff and Michael Price also found the end zone as Willmar eventually found their groove on offense, taking a 20-0 lead as the fourth quarter approached.
Before the end of the third quarter, however, the Storm found paydirt with tailback Alex Harren crossing the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown. Harren and Brody Rollins packed a potent one-two punch in the backfield, combining for 152 rushing yards on 26 carries.
“It was just grit,” said Dominic Mathies, quarterback. “We made a couple of plays, and when we got into the end zone that first time, we were all excited and in go mode.”
Mathies was making his first start under center, and facing a two-score, fourth-quarter deficit head-on is a mighty tall task to ask a new starter to overcome. It was no big deal for the pesky Mathies, who constantly evaded an athletic Willmar pass rush to move the chains. The junior finished the night with 196 passing yards and three touchdowns to go with 45 rushing yards and a score.
“Dom is a gamer,” Klaphake said. “He’s tough, and he makes a lot of plays off-script. If things don’t go well, he still finds a way to make stuff happen. I was impressed with his mental and physical toughness tonight. Being how big he is, he was running really hard, making some big-time throws.”
A pair of these big-time throws came in the waning minutes of what seemed like a lost game. Mathies immediately hit wideout Ethan Opsahl for a 33-yard touchdown down the right sideline, energizing the Storm bench once more.
“Once we make that big play, that momentum swings and we feel like we can win the game,” Opsahl said. “We were making big play after big play and having that momentum swing, our energy high.”
After Willmar saw a chance to ice the game slip away, SRR scored again with 11 seconds to play, courtesy of the Mathies-Opsahl connection. The Cardinals blocked a game-winning extra-point attempt and took the game to overtime.
There, the teams traded touchdowns before Willmar took a 35-28 advantage and stuffed the Storm’s two-point attempt following yet another score. Mathies took the direct snap and dashed to his right, hoping to find the edge. Instead, he met multiple Willmar defenders and went down before he could break the plane, ending the unforgettable affair.
“We’re always a team that when we have a chance to win it, we’re going to try to win it right now,” Klaphake said. “I wish I could have that play back. I have a better play in my mind that I wish I would have called.”
The Storm will look to erase their mental errors and rebound from this disappointing loss when they take on Elk River at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, at Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School in Sauk Rapids. Despite letting a game slip from their grasp, this entertaining showdown was a prime example of just how fun high school football can be.
“There’s not a sport there’s not a game that feels like this,” Klaphake said.
“It’s always a ton of fun, period. No matter the year, no matter the night, there’s nothing cooler than high school football games under the lights. It’s special, it really is.”
Monticello 34, 
SRR 14
 In sports the final score is not indicative of how close the contest really was.
That certainly could be said about the Sauk Rapids-Rice football team’s season-opening 34-14 loss to Monticello Oct. 9 in Monticello.
The spread of 20 points seems like a lot, but the score would have been much closer. Costly turnovers in the red zone and missed assignments at the worst time hurt the Storm.
The Magic led 13-0 at halftime and scored first in the second half before the Storm got on the board. Jackson Ackerman hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Mathies for the Storm’s first score of the game. Harren then ran in the 2-point conversion to trim the deficit to 20-8.
The score remained that way until the fourth quarter. Monticello sandwiched two long touchdown runs around the Storm’s second touchdown of the game, a 35-yard touchdown pass from Mathies to Ackerman.
Offensively, SRR had tremendous balance. They ran for 171 yards and passed for 194. Alex Harren was the leading ball carrier for SRR. He busted through holes and gained 124 yards on just 14 carries.
Mathies threw for 121 yards, and Tucker Hendrickson 43 to lead the passing attack. Jackson Ackerman and Alex and Andrew Harren combined to lead the team with four, five and three catches, respectively.