Blaine (1-0) held on to win its season opener against Edina (1-1) 21-19 at Bengals Stadium Aug. 29. The meeting was a rematch of a 30-27 Section 5AAAAAA-6AAAAAA contest last season won by Edina at its artificial turf stadium.
In that section game, Blaine had a number of turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns and a punt recovery translated into six points. “We felt good how we ended the season, besides those three plays,” Blaine coach Tom Develice said.
“We didn’t make enough plays again,” Edina coach Reed Boltmann said. “We had our chances to win but we let the ball slip through our hands, missed tackles, interceptions. Things, we thought that we got past after our first game. I’m not dissapointed from losing to Blaine, they’re a great team.”
The Hornets shutout Holy Angels 40-0 in their zero-week game in Richfield, Aug. 23.
Boltmann said he was glad not to see Joe Robel roaming the secondary and running routes for Blaine, after he shutdown
The start of the Bengals season opener was pushed back 30 minutes due to the heat and humidity.
That move didn’t seem to cool off Bengals quarterback Alex Copa or Blaine’s defense in generating four turnovers.
Copa, the senior captain, scrambled through the Hornets defense for 103 yards on the ground on 34 carries and two touchdowns (one and three yards out). He took control during a 42-yard scoring drive midway through the third quarter by stretching the defense with multiple receiver sets in the spread offense.
As a result, Copa mixed up first-down runs by either sidestepping the Hornets defensive line and linebackers up the middle or using his speed to bust outside the tackles for big gains. Despite just 42 yards, the drive was methodical in its pace and execution, ending with a touchdown run from three yards out with 5:02 left in the third quarter.
Copa struggled to complete passes, going six-for-20 for 65 yards and one touchdown, but managed the game well and didn’t turn the ball over. Senior receiver Zach Wylie hauled in a 29-yard touchdown pass for the opening score, 5:46 into the game. “I went into the skinny post and Copa just threw a beautiful ball,” Wylie said.
Develice said the coverage by Edina was tight and they noticed a chance to take advantage of the opportunity.
Wylie also came up with some big plays in the secondary, including an interception on Bengals eight yard line to end a promising Hornets drive. This is Wylie’s first chance to play defense since eighth grade and said it was fun to play on the other side of the ball. “Had a couple tackles and the interception so I felt we played well and our defense just played really well,” Wylie said.
Blaine built a 21-6 lead before Edina rallied and had a chance to take a 22-21 lead with less than one minute left, but Hornets kicker Aaron LeCorre missed a 42-yard field goal wide left.
Develice recognized LeCorre’s kicking ability and called a time out before the play to make sure the Bengals were organized. “He was kicking them far [during warm-ups] and last week we saw him play against Holy Angels, so we knew he’s a good kicker,” Develice said.
After the final score from Copa, the Bengals offense failed to generate much in terms of yardage or rest time for the defense.
“That’s the thing about the spread,” Develice said, referring to Copa absorbing many hard hits but also punishing those aggressive defenders with delayed runs and passes.
“Sometimes it’s good or bad when you ask your quarterback to do that,” he said.
“He’s the returning starter and those are the things we look to him for because he’s a good athlete.”
Develice said Copa is smart about tacklers and how to absorb tackles. “It’s always something you have in the back of your head but at the same time, he’s a smart runner and doesn’t take a blow straight on,” he said.
Edina quarterback Troy Peterson scored three times, including two runs of six and five yards out in the fourth quarter. Peterson’s six-yard touchdown came 47 seconds into the final quarter and seemed to turn the momentum toward Edina.
“Troy had a nice night,” Boltmann said.
One concern Develice has about a rather young Bengals team is how down they got when Edina began to rally.
“One habit they have right now is to hang their heads a little too much and that’s one thing we talked about,” Develice said. “They’ve got to understand we’re a good football team and play it to the end.”
After a stalled Blaine offensive possession, Edina began with the ball from its own 30-yard line with 8:20 left on the clock. Hornets receiver Nate Johnson blew past the Bengals secondary to make a great catch in stride for a 34-yard gain to bolster the momentum swing. Driving even closer to the end zone, Edina’s hopes were dashed when Wylie picked off the pass in the shaddow of Blaine’s endzone.
“High school football is so much about momentum,” Boltmann said. “You have to feel good about yourself and make a couple plays.
“Troy had a nice night. He was a little shaky there in the first quarter but picked it up in the third and fourth quarter to bounce back.”
After Blaine’s offense stalled, Copa picked up a friendly bounce on a 49-yard punt to give Edina the ball near its own 30-yard line.
Hornets junior receiver Nate Boone made the first of two highlight-reel catches when he pulled in a 33-yard reception after Blaine’s defense bit on the play-action play. A couple plays later Boone made another amazing reception. This time the 32-yard catch came with Bengals defensive back Logan Nelson providing great coverage, so Boone did the only thing he could, pulling in the ball over his back for the reception.
Boltmann, the Edina coach, put Boone’s performance into context. “He had two catches, a drop and gave up two interceptions, too,” Boltmann said. “He’s a good player too, but we’re expecting him to be an all-state, all-conference-type player and when the ball is up there you have to go compete for it.”
Boone pulled in another pass at the five-yard line to set up Peterson’s third rushing touchdown of the game with 3:04 remaining to make the score 21-19. A stumble after receiving the snap on the two-point conversion kept the Bengals ahead by two points.
The Bengals linebackers proved how strong they are led by captain Caleb Butler in the middle. The team was without senior Mandary Stewart, who is a returning starter but is serving a two-game suspension for violating Minnesota State High School League policy.
Handling the heat and the state high school league protocol, Blaine kept an eye on the heat chart to determine if it was safe or not to practice.
“We’ve watched the chart non-stop,” Develice said about keeping everyone safe in the heat.
He opted to practice Tuesday evening to help simulate Thursday’s conditions, including hits. “We just came out in our helmets one day and was really low-key,” Develice said. “Monday was so hot, it just drained the kids after 20 minutes.”
Next up for the Bengals is a visit to Robbinsdale Cooper for a Sept. 6 kickoff at 7 p.m.
Jason Olson is at