September 7, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
When the Sauk Centre and Holdingford football teams went to their respective sidelines before their game Thursday night, there was a lot of inexperience looking at each other across the field.
The Streeters were starting seven new players on offense and nine on defense; Holdingford had a little more experience but still started eight new faces on offense and five on defense.
The Huskers, though, had one big advantage in the skilled positions. They had a three-year starter as their quarterback and two-year starter at running back, and those two were a little too much for the Streeters to handle as Holdingford defeated Sauk Centre 28-16 in the season opener for both teams Aug. 31 at Holdingford High School in Holdingford.
The duo of senior quarterback Drew Lange and junior running back Luke Bieniek combined to rush for three touchdowns and throw for another in the win.
“They have a good set of runners. They run the ball hard and made us work for every stop we got,” said Curtis Krump, Sauk Centre head coach. “I was nervous for the kids because we have a lot of new starters. The inexperience showed. But there were moments when we did things well and caused some problems. The kids just need reps. They are going to be learning on the job.”
Sauk Centre made some big plays in the first half. Luke Fiedler had a fumble recovery and Troy Hansen and Tucker Kuhlmann had sacks to thwart the Huskers’ momentum but offensively, the Streeters struggled moving the ball and found themselves facing a 14-0 deficit at halftime.
The Streeters were a different team in the third quarter. They got their playmakers in open space and seemed more comfortable with 24 minutes under their belt. They were trailing 22-0 when senior running back Austin Helgeson broke free for a 60-yard touchdown run. Damian Ahrens connected with Jeric Schloegl for the 2-point conversion.
The score brought a lot of confidence to the Streeter players and it carried over to the defense, who promptly held Holdingford to a three-and-out.
Things got a lot more interesting on Sauk Centre’s next possession, when Ahrens threw a ball up to Jay Neubert, who outleaped a Husker defender and came down with it at the Holdingford 7-yard line. A short time later, Ahrens scampered into the end zone for a score. He then hooked up with Neubert for the 2-point conversion and Sauk Centre was nipping on the Huskers heels, trailing just 22-16.
“We relaxed, we refocused knowing there were things in the first half we did well,” Krump said. “We have some speed and talent on the edges. If we can get those guys in space, it’s tough for people to stop us.”
The ball-hawking Streeter defense then forced a turnover to give the Streeters the ball with a chance to go ahead, but the drive stalled.
Bieniek scored on Holdingford’s next possession early in the fourth quarter to bump the lead to 28-16. Sauk Centre had two possessions in the final frame but could not sustain any drives in suffering their first loss of the year.
“They didn’t play their best and they knew it,” Krump said. “I told the guys it’s on me, I need to do a better job getting you prepared for different situations, maybe simplifying things,” Krump said. “I need to do a better job putting them in a position to succeed.”
Krump, who is in his first year as head coach, said there were many positives he hopes to build on as his team prepares for their first home game of the season against Minnewaska Area at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, at Sauk Centre High School in Sauk Centre.
“Offensively, you can see there are plays there to make and we can put some points on the board with our skilled guys,” Krump said. “There were times we did play great on defense. Some of the nerves of playing for the first time got to them in the moment. There aren’t any failures if we learn from our mistakes.”
He added, “I think the guys are going to be really hungry to get after and put up points and to not give up too many points.”
SC 0 0 16 0--16
H 0 14 8 6--28
Helgeson 60-yard touchdown run (Ahrens pass to Schloegl for 2-point conversion)
Ahrens 7-yard touchdown run (Ahrens pass to J. Neubert for 2-point conversion)
Individual stats: Passing: Ahrens 12-32-166 yards (2 INT); Rushing: Helgeson 11-92, Ahrens 7-26, Schloegl 2-29; J. Neubert 2-8; Receiving: Schloegl 7-69, J. Neubert 4-87, Adam Neubert 1-4. Defense: Fumble recoveries: Luke McCoy, T. Hansen, 1; Sacks: Fiedler, T. Hansen, T. Kuhlmann, 1.