At the end of 48 minutes, Anoka (1-0) walked away from Park Center (0-1) with a 44-13 Northwest Suburban Conference win. It took Anoka more than a quarter to figure things out as the Pirates led 7-0 after the first 12 minutes.
Anoka coach Jeff Buerkle said with so many first-time varsity players, the nerves took a bit of time to settle down.
“Park Center has a good quarterback, running backs and receivers and our guys got beat in single coverage,” he said of the early trouble.
Knowing the possibility for a quick score early, Buerkle and the coaching staff prepared the Tornadoes to stay calm on both sides of the ball. “We talked to them about not panicking and we felt we had better depth and it might take a quarter or two to get going,” he said.
Anoka responded with 20 points in the second quarter keyed by a 60-yard punt return touchdown by Sam Licari. Anoka’s special teams came through by recovering the second-half kickoff to set up another score to make it 27-6 moments into the second half.
After the first quarter, Anoka outscored the Pirates 44-6 with big plays by the special teams and the offense ran for 352 yards, averaging more than six yards per carry. Connor Nikolas led the rushing attack with 96 yards on 13 carries and Reid Lindsay carried the ball 11 times for 45 yards.
Buerkle said he hopes the duo will turn into the nice complimentary attack that Anoka’s grown accustomed to in recent seasons. Eight different Tornadoes carried the ball to help spread the workload around.
“It’s one of those deals where we’d like to give the ball to the guy with the hot hand at the time,” Buerkle said. “We want to keep teams preparing for both of them.”
Anoka’s running attack helped wear down Park Center, who had players going both ways. The heat didn’t help them keep up the pace needed to play with Anoka on opening night.
The Tornadoes return to Goodrich Field to open the home portion of the schedule against neighbor and rival Andover Sept. 6. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Both teams enter the Week 2 contest after overwhelming wins.
Buerkle said the key to containing Andover’s stand-out quarterback Connor Wilkie will be in how they can disrupt his rhythm and passing lanes.
No matter the outcome, the familiarity and friendships between the two schools makes for a fun and intense atmosphere. “It doesn’t matter where its played, it seems to always be a good, well-played game no matter which team is the supposed favorite,” Buerkle said.
“Some years we beat them and some years they beat us. They want to beat us and we want to beat them and after the game we’re all friends again.”
Jason Olson is at