It wasn’t the dominating performance any head coach hopes for in their first career victory.
But a win is still a win. And new Sartell football coach Scott Hentges wasn’t complaining in the wake of his team’s 6-0 Central Lakes Conference victory over St. Cloud Apollo Friday night at Husky Stadium.
“I told our kids, the Central Lakes is a physical conference, and Apollo played a great game against us,” said Hentges, who became the third head coach in school history following Dean Taylor (1969-94) and John Ross (1995-2011).
“I really liked the way they pursued and tackled. They have a very physical defense and they made it difficult on us at times.”
Sartell has never lost to Apollo, dating back to the first meeting between the two teams when Taylor was coaching the Sabres in 1993.
But Friday’s victory was not an easy one, even if the statistics tilted in Sartell’s favor. The game remained scoreless until a 4-yard touchdown run by Sabres senior Eric McAfee with 7:16 to play provided the night’s only scoring.
“They played great defense against us,” said McAfee, who rushed for 93 yards on 28 carries. “We thought this might be an easy game. But it wasn’t. They are a very physical and well-coached team. They gave us all we could handle.”
It was the members of the Sartell defense who proved to be the heroes of the night. The Sabres limited the Eagles to minus-2 yards rushing in the first half.
Then, when Apollo went almost exclusively to the air in the second half, the Sartell pass rush teed off. Though Apollo had some success passing, the Sabres finished the night with six sacks.
“Our mantra is ‘stop the run, stop the run, stop the run,'” said Hentges, whose team had to move Friday’s home game to Husky Stadium because the field in Sartell was not quite ready for play after it was re-sodded this summer.
“If we can put teams in second-and-long or third-and-long situations, good things are going to happen. They got some short stuff against us. But for the most part, I thought we rushed the passer and tackled really well.”
The game’s pivotal turn came when Apollo took over the ball at the Sartell 33-yard line after a punt with 2:55 to play in the third quarter. Two plays later, sophomore quarterback Ben Alvord connected on what appeared to be a 27-yard touchdown pass to junior Kyle Rosenthal that would have given the Eagles the lead.
But the play was called back on a penalty.
“We ended up passing the ball more than we wanted to, but we had some success with it,” Apollo coach Justin Skaalerud said. “We had that touchdown called back and that hurt. I think we only had three penalties all night. But that one cost us. We can’t have mistakes like that.”
The Eagles then turned the ball over on downs when Alvord was sacked for an 8-yard loss on 4th-and-2 at the Sartell 14. The Sabres promptly marched 78 yards in 13 plays — helped by a big 14-yard gain on a screen pass to McAfee on 3rd-and-13 at the Apollo 17 — to score on McAfee’s touchdown run.
“Every time the defense stepped up with a big play, that helped get the offense motivated,” Sartell senior fullback/linebacker Matt Worzala said. “The defense really helped get us going.”
And that proved all the Sabres needed to send Hentges home a winner in his first game at the helm.
“This is a position I’ve wanted to be in for a long time and I felt comfortable out here tonight,” said Hentges, who took over when Ross, who remains the school’s activities director, stepped down from coaching after last season.
“But at the same time, following Dean and John, I know there is a lot of tradition I need to live up to. I just thought our coaches did a good job of getting our guys prepared tonight. And the bottom line is that we came out with a win.”
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SAR – Eric McAfee 4 run (kick failed)
Rushing: SCA — Noel Teigen 2-11, Cooper Lynch 1-5, Larry Miller 7-4, Kyle Rosenthal 1-1, Jacob Thralow 3-0, Ben Alvord 16-(-10); Totals: 30-11; SAR — McAfee 28-93, Sam Neeser 3-9, Dylan Hollenkamp 1-3, Parker Hagen 4-8, Matt Worzala 1-1; Totals: 37-114.
Passing: SCA — Alvord 10-15-1 99; SAR –Hagen 11-23-2 102.
Receiving: SCA — Teigen 4-55, Rosenthal 4-27, Lynch 1-11, Michael Ashwill 1-6; Totals: 10-99; SAR — Pat Fischer 5-51, McAfee 1-14, Worzala 1-11, Neeser 1-11, Jake Wenzel 1-9, Zach Schoonmaker 1-7, Tom Bearson 1-(-1); Totals: 11-102.