The West Central Area/Ashby Knight football team concluded its season last Friday with a first round defeat at the Minnesota State Tournament. Before we delve into the game summary or statistics let’s not construe the message being written. WCAA may have taken a loss in its final game of the year but the team had best not hang its head or feel any remorse as the young men who make up the unit provided their communities with a very fine season and any team who earns a trip to the final eight has plenty to be prideful of.
Fans, families and coaches that I have visited with all agreed on two things over the course of fall. Both qualities enabled this team to get where it went. Firstly the team improved. All season long the Knights got better and better. From a viewer’s perspective the team became cohesive and had a sincere care for each other. When this happens it is simply the nature of the beast to want to do better for those around you. Developing within the game is a byproduct of a group that thinks more of the big picture than the individuals themselves. The word selfless comes to mind. Secondly, and from an old football coach this is so appreciated, this group never once just mailed in a game. The Knight grid men played hard all season. More than once this year the Knights found themselves in situations that looked insurmountable. We have all seen a time in which the 'straw that broke the camel’s back' happened, defeat was accepted and an overall loss of emotion crept in. There were times that this could have happened this season but it didn't. Not one single time did I leave a football game thinking, the guys could have played harder. When a group of people attack what they do with vigor, become willing to improve and then actually implement the gains...good things happen. Good things like building blocks for the future in the form of section championships and berths at a state tournament. Knight football, you have made all of us who follow you proud!
The actual game took place in Brainerd. To put it mildly it was cold. There was wind and there was snow, it was much like one would think when playing football in November in Minnesota. The adversary for the Knights were the Section 7 champs, the Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels. The Rebels are a seasoned group of veterans to the state tournament, they have been in it 11 out of the last 15 seasons. There is something to be said about experience.
Scoring began quickly as on the opening play from scrimmage Sr (RB) Colton Little broke loose and ran 53 yards for a score, Jr (RB) Trent Juhl ran in the PAT. The next score came with eight seconds remaining in the first quarter. Jr (RB) Anakin Oswald hammered in a touchdown from two yards out. Scoring continued at 9:20 in the second stanza when the Rebels broke loose again, this time for an 81 yard dash by Colton Little. The final score of the half was from Little again as at 2:25 he found open ground again and sprinted his way to a 43 yard score. Juhl ran in the PAT. MLWR led the game at the half 28-0.
The Rebels put up the only points in the third quarter and they came by way of a eight yard run from Juhl with 1:41 showing on the clock. Fresh (PK) Carter Johnson booted the PAT. WCAA, who kept playing hard, put up their first score of the game capping a 10 play 65 yard drive at 11:56 in the 4th when Sr (QB) Ross Anderson connected with Sr (RB) Brady Sabolik for a five yard TD pass. MLWR crossed the end zone at 7:48 when little scampered in from 16 yards out. The Knight mounted their final drive of the contest and season when they score with 1:02 left in the game, it took six plays to travel 73 yards as Anderson found Sr (RB/WR) Kaden Spindler on a 21 yard TD pass. Spindler also caught the PAT. Final score MLWR 41, WCAA 14.
The Knights posted a respectful game offensively as they posted 315 yards in 49 snaps of the ball. There was eight passing first downs and eight rushing first downs. In total WCAA gained 226 yards through the air and 89 on the ground. Turnovers were costly as all three came on extended drives giving the rebels relief from a Knight score and opportunity to put up points of their own.
Leaders for the offense were Ross Anderson who went 15 for 28 throwing, gaining all 226 yards, both TDs and the PAT through the air. Leading the rushers was Brady Sabolik who gained 37 yards on six carries. Four Knights caught passes and because of the difficulty catching the ball in the conditions played in all four will earn Area Press Player of the Game. If a person ever wonders what it’s like to catch footballs in the cold, keep your hands in a freezer for 30 minutes then try to catch a football. Sr (TE) Dawson Staples hauled in three catches for 87 yards, Sabolik caught a pair of passes for 12 yards and a touchdown, Sr (WR) Parker Clavin caught three for 30 yards and Kaden Spindler pulled down five catches for 98 yards a touchdown and a PAT.
The Rebel offense did not pass the ball very well, in fact they were 0-2 passing, but they evidently did not need to gain yards through the air as they have a very fine rushing attack. MLWR gashed the Knights on the ground 56 times and tallied up 12 first downs on their way to 460 yards and six scores. Best of luck to the Rebels for the remainder to their season.
Leaders for the Knights on the defensive side of the ball were Jr (LB) Tanner Bennett with 2 tackles and 11 assists, (LB) Ross Anderson posted 5 tackles and 5 assists, (S) Brady Sabolik 2 tackles and 9 assists, Kaden Spindler 1 tackle for loss, 2 tackles, and 7 assists, Sr (DT) Logan Paulson 1 Tackle, 7 assists, and a fumble recovery and Fresh (LB) Jaden Norby with 5 tackles, 7 assists and a fumble recovery.