ST. CLOUD — The Brainerd Warriors recovered after a rocky start to get their first win 35-30 over the St. Cloud Apollo Eagles in a Section 8-5A matchup Saturday, Oct. 17.
On the opening kickoff, Warriors returner Caden Schoeppner fumbled and Apollo recovered at Brainerd’s 28-yard line.
Four plays later, on a fourth and eight, Apollo struck a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jakob Corrow to Mach Rout and it was 8-0 less than two minutes in.
The Warriors responded on their first drive going for 17 plays and 77 yards but were stopped at the 3-yard line on fourth and goal.
Apollo’s first play on the ensuing drive was one of their seven fumbles recovered by the Warriors at the 1.
Schoeppner plunged into the end zone the next play and the Warriors tied the game after the two-point conversion.
“That’s a credit to our seniors,” Warriors head coach Jason Freed said about bouncing back after the fumble. “Caden is one of our senior running backs and got stripped, never saw the guy coming. But then we bounced back. Credit the seniors and the captains for rallying the troops. It was early enough in the game we were able to settle in and get that score back.”
Schoeppner finished the game with 103 yards rushing on 22 carries and two touchdowns after his fumble.
“Got to have short-term memory,” Schoeppner said. “All the negative stuff you have to put it behind you and focus on the goal which is to get the win.”
Freed thought he saw some early-season jitters from his players to start.
“We are an inexperienced team,” he said. “We have a lot of new kids playing out there, and maybe tonight they were a little wide-eyed, but in the end, a win is a win. And honestly, we have been dealing with having to be resilient since August and it’s a mark on our kids.”
The Warriors also created big plays on defense.
With 49 seconds left in the first half, Apollo snapped the ball at Brainerd’s 6-yard line and fumbled. Warriors linebacker Camden Langerman picked up the fumble and returned it six yards for a touchdown.
“I had Dylan Wgeishofski come in and pop the inside,” Langerman said. “He really blew that play up. He caused the fumble and I saw the ball pop right up in the air. It took one bounce and I grabbed it and leaned in.”
The Warriors took a 29-16 lead into half after the scoop and score.
“Anytime you can score on defense it’s a momentum turner,” Freed said.
In the fourth quarter, with the Warriors leading 35-23, quarterback Nathaniel Staehling was set to punt on a fourth and 20, but his knee touched the ground before he punted resulting in a 12-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
The Eagles took over at Brainerd’s 41 and found the end zone two plays later when Erassy Antsino caught his second touchdown of the game from Corrow with 3:36 remaining.
Antsino finished the game with two catches for 103 yards and two scores to lead the Eagles offense.
The Eagles got the ball back at the Warriors 16 with three minutes to go and no timeouts left needing a touchdown to win.
Warriors defensive lineman Andrew Albright sacked Corrow on fourth and six to ice the game for Brainerd.
“We gave up some big plays, but we responded and made some big plays,” Freed said of his defense. “It’s a mark to the defense by getting their head in the game and not letting those big plays get to them.”
In the second quarter, Brainerd finished off a 60-yard drive with six points on a 1-yard run from Staehling to make it 15-8 with 10:32 left in the quarter.
The Eagles only needed one play to answer at the 10:09 mark of the second quarter. Corrow connected with Antsino on a 62-yard touchdown. Apollo regained a 16-15 lead after the two-point conversion.
Apollo regained possession after a Warriors punt inside their own 15, but lost another fumble giving Brainerd excellent field possession at the Eagles’ 13.
Schoeppner scored his second touchdown from 2 yards out giving the Warriors the lead 23-16.
The Warriors had the advantage on the ground rushing for 199 yards to Apollo’s 66 yards.
“Our offensive line did a great job,” Freed said. “They really made some nice holes. The benefit, too, is we are finding to spread the running game out. We are not just pounding certain gaps. Being diverse in the running game will only help our running game as teams are going to honor what we did.”
Apollo got the ball to start the second half and scored on a 7 play, 60-yard drive capped off by a Corrow touchdown pass to Thomas Diew from 5 yards out.
The Warriors responded with a touchdown drive of their own to start the second half with Staehling scoring his second rushing touchdown from 1 yard out.
Staehling finished with 73 yards rushing on 21 carries and two touchdowns. He also completed 5-for-8 passes for 55 yards and one two-point conversion.
The Eagles sliced Brainerd’s defense through the air with 219 yards passing and four touchdowns. However, Apollo had five turnovers including four lost fumbles.
Nevertheless, Brainerd is pleased to get a close win in Freed’s first game as head coach.
“I’m interested to see the film,” Freed said. “I think we will find on film that we played better than we realized and we just had a few plays we didn’t play well on.”
Brainerd 8 21 6 0 — 35
Apollo 8 8 7 7 — 30
A-Mach Rout 26 pass from Jakob Corrow (Thomas Diew pass from Erassy Antsino) 8-0 10:16
Brd-Caden Schoeppner 1 run (Jed Klang from Nathaniel Staehling) 8-8 2:46
Brd-Staehling 1 run (Aiden Brown kick) 15-8 10:32
A-Erassy Antsino 62 pass from Corrow (Diew pass from Antsino) 16-15 10:09
Brd-Schoeppner 2 run (Staehling run) 23-16 5:59
Brd-Camden Langerman 6 fumble return (pass failed) 29-16 0:49
A-Diew 5 pass from Corrow (Hayden Schmitz kick) 29-23 8:12
Brd-Staehling 1 run (run failed) 35-23 5:04
A-Antsino 41 pass from Corrow (Schmitz kick) 35-30 3:36
Rushes-yards: Brd 51-199, A 31-66
Pass comp-att-int-yds: Brd 5-8-0-55, A 12-20-1-219
Total offense: Brd 59-254, A 51-285
Rushing: Brd-Caden Schoeppner 22-103, Nathaniel Staehling 21-73, Brandt Patton 4-13, Gabe Wagner 4-10; A-Ilyas Sidow 14-50, Oakley Louangsyahraj 6-23, Erassy Antsino 1-15, Jakob Corrow 7-(-17)
Passing: Brd-Nathaniel Staehling 5-8-55; Jakob Corrow- 12-20-219
Receiving: Brd-Brandt Patton 3-24, Jed Klang 1-24, Mike Huesmann 1-7; Erassy Antsino 2-103, Thomas Diew 4-50, Mach Rout 1-26, David Boyd 1-17, Quamar Gresham 3-13, Ilyas Sidow 1-10
Warriors 35, Apollo 30
Key: Warriors create five takeaways to win the first game of the season.
Overall: Brd 1-0, A 0-2.
Next: Brainerd hosts Alexandria 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23.
CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.