Goodrich Field was transformed into Dave Brock Field for the annual Pumpkin Bowl football game, but Blaine walked away with a 21-9 win over Anoka, Oct. 16.
The final regular season home game of the season is designated as Anoka’s way to celebrate Halloween, complete with a trophy that includes each game score dating back several decades, orange striping on the field, lit pumpkins on the north wall of the stadium, special all-black uniforms and dance and cheer teams dressed in Halloween costumes.
Blaine (6-2, 5-1) won its fourth game in a row in part thanks to two lengthy touchdown receptions by junior Nicholas Studer of 25 and 46 yards in addition to strong defensive and special teams play. Receiver Zach Wylie had 8 catches for 79 yards while sustaining drives with third-down plays just beyond the first-down marker or circus-style catches on the sidelines.
Studer led the Bengals with four catches for 103 yards in his return to the field since an ankle injury during a week two win against Robbinsdale Armstrong.
Bengals coach Tom Develice said Studer moved to receiver after Nate Kroutil moved to the backfield ahead of the week two win against Armstrong.
Leading up to Wednesday’s contest, Studer was working hard at the outside receiver spot and made the most of his chances in his return to the team.
“It’s been frustrating for him,” Develice said. “It’s taken him a long time to come back and he still hobbles a bit but he shows why he’s a pretty good football player and a versatile kid who can play a couple different spots.”
Blaine quarterback Alex Copa found Studer on quick-slant pass to his left on the first score, from 25 yards for a 7-3 lead with 2:47 left in the opening half.
“I just kept seeing blockers coming my way so I kept making cuts and saw daylight so I kept going,” Studer said. “It felt good coming back. It felt really good to be back on the field with all the friends.”
On winning a trophy game to close out the regular season, he said, “It’s another big game for us to win and now we have to focus up and get ready for playoffs. Momentum is there but we have to keep preparing like we have been and it will be golden.”
The low score was an indicator of how strong each defense was. Blaine ran for 27 yards on 35 carries or 1.48 yards per carry after averaging more than four yards on the season. Kroutil had a team-high 43 yards while the rest of ball-carriers ran for negative yardage.
Develice described the win as ugly to the team during the post-game meeting on the field, but Blaine still found a way to finish on a high note.
The Bengals dropped the ball five times on hikes, pitches, hand-offs or tackles by the Tornadoes. Copa went 17 for 23 for 223 yards with one interception.
“We carry the ball a little too low instead of up by our chest and that’s been a concern for us all week,” Develice said. “It’s a big focus thing for us. Every guy who touches the ball has to be concerned about it instead of looking ahead.”
Tornadoes coach Jeff Buerkle felt his team played well in the opening half and entered the second half within one score.
“I felt we played well in the first quarter and into the second quarter to put some points on the board,” Buerkle said. “We were in a decent position getting the ball [to start the second half] if we could have driven down and put some points on the board.”
But Anoka lost junior defensive backs Jack Peter and Jason Putnam to injuries in the first half. “That really hurt what we could do defensively and we ended up playing some stuff we really didn’t want to as a result,” Buerkle said.
Anoka once again scored first, this time on a 30-yard field goal by Travis Mashuga, five seconds into the second quarter.
That lead held up until late in the quarter as the Anoka defense made big plays, especially coming from senior defensive back Stephen Barthold, who was flying around the field including the Bengals backfield.
“He always plays hard,” Buerkle said. “He’s kind of the leader on defense. He makes key tackles on the flats, he also is a receiver and plays a lot on special teams so he’s pretty worn-out by the end of the night.”
Anoka junior linebacker Matt Njos not only stopped Blaine quarterback Alex Copa on a fourth and goal play at the one-yard line, but single handed kept him from the end zone after a hole opening up at the line of scrimmage.
That wasn’t the first big play of the game for Anoka as junior defensive back Sam Licari jarred the ball loose and junior defensive back Cory Sylvester pounced on the fumble on the Blaine 30-yard line in the closing minutes of the first quarter. The turnover produced Mashuga’s field goal and the first points of the game.
Fumbles continued in the second half when Barthold dropped a punt on the opening drive of the second half. Blaine’s Evan Andersen recovered the ball on Anoka’s 32-yard line, but an illegal formation penalty on Blaine forced them to redo the down. Barthold then returned the punt to the Tornadoes’s 45-yard line.
In keeping with the passing strategy of the first half, Anoka started the second half with a classic flee flicker. The Anoka running back takes the ball behind the offensive line before turning around and pitching the ball back to the quarterback, who finds an open receiver for a long gain.
Anoka quarterback Travis Bengston had a streaking receiver in Riley Perry, but Blaine defensive back Logan Nelson matched him step-for-step before intercepting the pass at the goal line. The big-play backfired for Anoka when Bengston was picked off for a second time on the next possession. Blaine’s Riley Hedstrom held on to the misfired quick slant pass near midfield.
The turnover resulted in Studer’s second score in a similar-looking passing play to his first touchdown, this time from 46 yards out. Once again senior receiver Zach Wylie sealed the corner block to open Studer’s route into the corner of the end zone.
Anoka’s defense came up with another big turnover later in the third quarter when Barthold recovered a fumbled pitch from Copa intended for Kroutil on Anoka’s 13-yard line.
Backed-up near its own end zone, Anoka’s offense lost two yards in three plays before attempting a punt. Blaine’s special teams standout Nelson blocked his sixth kick of the season (punts and field goals) sending the ball sky-high into the Anoka end zone where senior Martin Cheruiyot recovered the ball for a touchdown to give the visitors a 21-3 lead.
Anoka cut the lead to 21-9 when Connor Nikolaus scored from 20 yards out with 54 seconds left. Reid Lindsay led the Tornadoes with 118 yards on 26 carries and set up Nikolaus’ score.
Jason Olson is at