Before Friday, St. Cloud Tech’s two football wins have been hold-your-breath, nibble-on-your-nails affairs brought on by knowing one play or a single mistake could change the outcome.
That wasn’t the case in the Tigers’ 40-20 win over St. Cloud Apollo.
Nerve-wracking, it wasn’t.
“We finally win a game without overtime,” Tech sophomore receiver James Kaczor said.
On a perfect, mild night with temperatures in the 70s and no wind, Tech limited its mistakes and took advantage of Apollo’s. It helped the Tigers (3-2 North Central District Red Division, 3-3 overall) end a three-game losing streak to the Eagles (0-5, 1-5).
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“It was a fun game and our first win (for the seniors) against Apollo,” defensive tackle Andrew Pierskalla said. “It’s nice.
“We really capitalized on their mistakes and I just feel like, for me, it was just a fun game to play.”
Tech scored its first defensive touchdown of the season to open the scoring, getting a 19-yard fumble return by Joey Mendel at 8:09 of the first quarter. The play came on a backwards pass. Quarterback Joey Atkinson attempted to hit Clayton Hoeper on a quick pass to his right. The ball fell to the ground and Mendel picked it up.
“I was waiting to hear the whistle and I never heard it,” said Mendel, a senior defensive back. “I just picked it up and I ran it in for the touchdown.
“And then I couldn’t stop smiling after that.”
The other key was Tech limiting its mistakes. The Tigers, who lead the all-time series with Apollo 33-14, had four penalties. They’d been in double digits more times than not this season.
Meanwhile, Tech piled up 474 yards on 61 plays. Quarterback Chris Backes had a big game, completing 15 of 22 passes for 217 yards and two TDs. He also rushed 11 times for 72 yards and another touchdown.
Backes connected with Brevyn Spann-Ford and Nathan Schreder on touchdown passes. Spann-Ford, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound sophomore receiver, had six catches for 118 yards. Schreder, a senior, had three catches for 47 yards. Kaczor caught four balls for 40 yards.
Add in Devin Vouk having 14 carries for 106 yards and a TD and it was a really good night for Tech’s offense.
“This was very similar to how our season’s gone,” Apollo head coach Justin Skaalerud said. “There were too many self-inflicted wounds.
“Some of that’s a credit to Tech. Brevyn’s only a sophomore? He’s going to be a very good football player the next two years.”
Apollo scored right after Mendel’s fumble return. Hoeper scored on a 39-yard run at 5:09 of the first quarter. John Blommel’s kick gave the Eagles a 7-6 lead.
Hoeper would up with a season-best 124 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Evin Rassier had two carries for 57 yards as Apollo had its best ground game performance of the season.
But, Tech scored three second-quarter TDs to take a 26-7 halftime lead. The Eagles cut the deficit to 26-14 on Hoeper’s 47-yard TD scamper with 10:30 to go in the third quarter.
Skaalerud lamented an Apollo drive that stalled on the Tech 4-yard line in the second quarter. It could have given the Eagles another lead.
But not this night. Tech had a win with plenty of big defensive plays. Max Martig had a pair of quarterback sacks and Darian Washington had an interception.
“It’s always fun just to have bragging rights,” said Pierskalla, who admitted to knowing most of Apollo’s players. Some he plays with in the spring on the co-op lacrosse team.
For Apollo, it’s back to the drawing board.
“We need to get 11 guys on the field and give 100-percent effort every play,” Skaalerud said. “It’s our homecoming week (next Friday) and I told our seniors, it’s their last home game.
“It’s the first time in three years we haven’t had a home playoff game and that’ll be something new.”
T — Joey Mendel 19 fumble return (kick failed)
A — Clayton Hoeper 39 run (John Blommel kick)
T — Brevyn Spann-Ford 41 pass from Chris Backes (run failed)
T — Nathan Schreder 5 pass from Backes (Kaleb Woodman kick)
T — Devin Vouk 16 run (Woodman kick)
A — Hoeper 47 run (Blommel kick)
T — Backes 3 run (Woodman kick)
T — Scott Kippley 1 run (Woodman kick)
A — Cole Johnson 29 pass from Joey Atkinson (kick failed)
Rushing: A — Hoeper 13-124, Evin Rassier 2-57, Nick Gill 6-37, Peter Nelson 1-2, Atkinson 6-(-29). Total: 28-191. T — Vouk 14-106, Backes 11-72, Kippley 10-33, James Kaczor 2-24, Spann-Ford 2-22. Total: 39-257.
Passing: A — Atkinson 14-22-1 145. T — Backes 15-22-0 217.
Receiving: A — Nelson 6-35, Johnson 4-65, Hoeper 1-9, Jayden Lister 1-8, Ethan Novacinski 1-5, James Blommel 1-4. T — Spann-Ford 6-118, Kaczor 4-40, Schreder 3-47, Jayden Sundstrom 1-8, Vouk 1-4.
Follow Tom Elliott on Twitter @sctimestom or call 259-3661.