Football: Sections open with success for Saints, Huskies

Fifth-seed St. Francis hit the road to open the Section 7AAAAA football tournament Tuesday night and returned home with a 35-14 win against No. 4 seed Duluth East.

The win is the second in three games for the Fighting Saints, who began the season 0-6 before winning a shootout at Fridley 41-33 Oct. 12 and pressed No. 2 ranked Spring Lake Park in the regular season finale at St. Francis 29-20 Oct. 17.

Saints coach Chris Lindquist said he doesn’t relish moral wins, but “in a season where so many things went wrong for the kids, for them to see that they could be competitive against a good team is worth something.”

Conditions were cold, windy and rainy or in other words, perfect football weather as the Saints utilized its ground game with authority with junior Max Gust and sophomore John Santiago providing the one-two attack for 326 yards and each scoring two touchdowns.

Gust averaged nearly six yards per carry and Santiago hit the hole for just over 18 yards per carry, which included a 90-yard scamper in the first quarter to make it 14-0 for the visitors. Gust scored on runs of 29 and 10 yards. Brandon Hartsberg returned a kickoff 85 yards to boost the Saints even further.

According to Lindquist, the running game fed off Duluth East overpursuing on defense which allowed for big gains. “We cut it across the field for big runs,” Lindquist said. “With the style of play we do, teams typically crowd the line and guys have to break one if not more tackles, but if we have enough speed we can break off a long one like we did tonight.”

Lindquist said the result was what they wanted, but he knows they will need to put together a complete game to keep playing past Saturday.

“We played really well in the first half, but we were out-coached and out-played in the third quarter,” he said.

Despite an 0-6 start, St. Francis was in all of its games to the end. It led Benilde 7-0 in the second half before a quick score turned the tide in a 12-7 loss one week after losing a heartbreaker to North Branch at the end 42-41.

Next up for the Saints is a visit to Section 7AAAAA No. 1 seed Chisago Lakes, which is ranked No. 10 in the state.

The Wildcats won the North Suburban Conference game 41-14, Sept. 28. “We’ll see another on Saturday that is a well-coached, hard-nosed team,” Lindquist said. “But we’re an incredibly resilient team in a tough season.”

Huskies blank St. Paul Central to open sections
Sixth-seeded Andover (5-4) picked up its first shutout in more than two years as it upset No. 3 seed and No. 6 ranked St. Paul Central (8-1) 30-0 at Griffin Stadium Tuesday evening in the opening round of the Section 4AAAAA tournament.

Andover’s Austin Lorch returns a punt 50 yards for a touchdown to ignite the Huskies sideline. Photo by Bill Jones

It was the first loss for the Minutemen this season and sets up an interesting semifinal when Andover travels next to No. 2 seed and ranked Spring Lake Park Oct. 27.

Huskies running back Derek McLaughlin ran for 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Austin Lorch scored on a 50 yard punt return to make it 14-0 at the half.

Coach Rich Wilkie said Lorch’s touchdown lit a fire on the Huskies sideline that continued through to the end.

“It was a complete game for us and it went as we hoped and expected,” he said.

Two long scoring passes kept the home team at bay and added to Andover’s level of confidence in what has been a tough schedule this season.

Derek McLaughlin, left, braces for a would-be tackler during Tuesday’s win in St. Paul. Photo by Bill Jones

Quarterback Connor Wilkie found Tyler Evans on a 29-yard reception to make it 21-0 with 9:02 left in the third quarter on a five-play, 33 yard drive. McLaughlin capped a seven-play, 91-yard drive with a one yard plunge to make it 28-0 with 52 seconds left in the third quarter. Wilkie completed nine of 15 passes for 132 yards, while Chris Larson and Theo Haslow each pulled in three passes and Evans had four catches for 42 yards.

Andover’s defense added more points when Felix Taylor sacked the Central quarterback Elijah Campbell in the end zone for a safety with 5:13 remaining in the contest for the final score. It was one of four sacks by the Huskies. who limited Central to five for 14 on third down conversions.

Tuesday’s win is the first win against a ranked opponent this season for Andover, who lost to No. 5 ranked Osseo in Class AAAAAAA followed by No. 1 ranked Totino-Grace in Class AAAAA on back-to-back weeks.

Andover has yet to play Spring Lake Park in an official game during Wilkie’s tenure, but the teams scrimmaged during the preseason.

Andover defensive back Kyle Kettler, right, breaks up a pass during the section opener at St. Paul Central. Photo by Bill Jones

“We talked about not doing it because we could be section opponents, but that was 10 weeks ago [and teams change significantly],” he said.