Benilde-St. Margaret's lost a number of key pieces after finishing their run to the AAAA title last season, but there does not appear to be much to worry about in 2017.
Led by a strong defense and an only-going-to-get better offensive line the Red Knights raced out to a 21-0 lead over Waconia and went on to win 28-14 in their home opener.
Early in the game, cornerback Liam Ford with a great read, cut in front of a receiver and knocked down a pass. Ford got his hands on a second ball to cause an incompletion and deflected a third pass. In the second half, he made a nice tackle in space and deflected another pass. NFN's 163rd ranked senior also spent a lot of time at running back. He had strong run in the middle of the offensive line behind offensive linemen Ian Stark and John Whitmore.
Ford was an effective outside runner too, evident by a long touchdown run. Offensive lineman Braeden Fitzgerald's key block on the outside sprung Ford for the touchdown.
Whitmore is one of the top juniors in the state and lines up at middle linebacker. The 19th-ranked junior closed on a quarterback run and forced a fumble. Later Whitmore filled the hole and made a solid tackle in between the tackles for short gain. Later, on a run blitz, he and Fitzgerald stuffed another run. Whitmore deflected a pass on a crossing route.
During the most impressive play of the game the junior blitzed, but Waconia ran a draw right at him. From a dead sprint, he was able to break down and make the tackle. If Whitmore flies by the running back, Waconia picks up big yardage.
"We followed our keys and executed the game plan," Whitmore said about the defensive performance. "We've got a great core of guys and play well as a team. If we keep following the game plan and reading our keys, I don't think there is anyone who can stop us."
Whitmore also plays offensive tackle. According to head coach Jon Hanks, the junior was moved to tackle for the first time this preseason. Despite his inexperience on offense he was seen pushing his man five yards into the secondary. He also gets to the second level well and was an effective pass protector.
Defensive lineman Patrick Kalb was the beneficiary of Whitmore's forced fumble. He was able to scoop and score from 40-yards out. Later in the game, he made a solid play against the run coming around the corner and running the play down from behind. Kalb's impact was felt one more time with a second half sack.
Wide receiver Gabe Alada caught a swing pass and turned what should have been a one yard gain into a five yard gain with a series of moves to avoid defenders. Later he caught a long ball for a touchdown from quarterback Tommy Anderson.
Nick Peterson also played quarterback and showed he has a good arm as well.
Noah Layton, Stark, Fitzgerald, Elijah Brown, Dustin Dallman and Whitmore all did a good job protecting the passer.
"That was one of our best games as an offensive line in my career," Fitzgerald said. "Everyone was hot; everything was working. The o-line did a great job. We just need to stay on our blocks a little longer – myself included."
Ikenna Uguagu would flash a handful of times on defense– most noticeably on a pass into the flat. The receiver made the first guy miss but the 89th ranked senior made a good open field tackle from a safety spot.
Gabe Jackson is tall and looks like a receiver, but has quick feet. During a 20-yard run, Jackson made three guys miss. A two-way player – Jackson picked off an under thrown ball. Later he broke up a deep pass and knocked down a fade into the end zone all while in one-on-one coverage.
Fitzgerald had a nice trap block, followed later by a pancake block on a sweep. Defensively he was solid at defensive end holding the edge while also making plays crashing down from the outside. Late in the game, NFN's 131st ranked senior put on a nice pass rush, once batting down a pass. Fitzgerald – also the punter – had two 50 plus punts (56 yards, then 60 yards)one of which did not have the benefit of a long bounce and roll.
Linebacker John Landry stayed home, read a bootleg and sacked the quarterback. Later Waconia ran an option toward Landry - he was the only one left to defend it but forced the play back inside so teammates could make the tackle.
Senior running back Quinn Ehlan didn't get many chances but broke multiple tackles on a run to the outside.
Ehlan typified the Red Knights' game.
"We have a big senior class, we all have to be leaders," Fitzgerald said. "Even if you only come in for five plays you still need to do your job. It all starts with energy."