September 13, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
Damian Ahrens set a lofty goal for himself individually before his first year as the starting quarterback for the Sauk Centre Streeters football team.
With the eyes of many on him to step up and lead a productive passing attack, the junior wanted to break the school’s single-game passing touchdowns record. The mark to reach was six, as Paul Kane and Simon Weller each established the longstanding bar to clear with five-touchdown performances in 1986 and 2016, respectively.
Despite his determination and confidence, however, nothing could have prepared Ahrens for what he accomplished on the football field Sept. 8, as the strong-armed signal-caller threw six touchdown passes in a 46-8 win over Minnewaska Area.
“The thing that’s going through my mind the most after having such a good game is all of the confidence I have in my team so we can carry it throughout the season and win more games like that,” said Ahrens, who passed for 202 yards in the victory, Sauk Centre’s first of 2023.
Ahrens maintained a belief he could produce positive results when he stepped under center, but the start of his varsity career naturally also included nervousness. After the Streeters fell 28-16 to Holdingford in their season opener Aug. 31, he saw it as an opportunity to grow and improve.
“Coming off the first game, we had some big connections and I think that showed me what our offense can do and what I can do with the talent we have,” Ahrens said. “I got all of the first-game nerves out of the way and brought that into the next game.”
TOUCHDOWN NO. 1
It took almost 30 minutes of game time for Sauk Centre to find the scoreboard in its loss to the Huskers. Ahrens and the offense were far more active early against Minnewaska Area, finding the end zone less than five minutes in. The gunslinger rolled to his left and made an impressive throw on the run to find wide receiver Jay Neubert for the first score of the prolific performance.
Making that caliber of throw was not always a guarantee for Ahrens.
“The first week of practice, it took me time to get used to it,” he said. “I would hit that drill and really give it 100% each time to get it down. Recently, it’s been working well for me.”
TOUCHDOWN NO. 2
Ahrens’ second touchdown throw was simpler but came in a more stressful situation: 4th-and-5 in the red zone. Not wanting to come away from the drive empty, Ahrens connected with Jeric Schloegl on a crosser near the sticks. Schloegl decisively sprinted to the outside around a pair of defenders for the first down and a 14-yard touchdown.
“Our read on it is where the backers were at and right away, they brought almost everybody and he was there wide open,” Ahrens said. “It was an easy read and he had enough space to get around everybody and into the end zone.”
TOUCHDOWN NO. 3
The next touchdown was a test of game management and execution with limited clock availability. Ahrens was the backup quarterback behind Matthew Warring in 2022, and one important trait Warring imparted on Ahrens was situational awareness, knowing how to approach a given scenario. Sauk Centre sat at Minnewaska Area 47-yard-line with 13 seconds remaining in the first half when Ahrens hurled a precise deep ball down the left sideline to Neubert, putting the Streeters in a goal-to-go spot. Ahrens found Neubert again for a 6-yard touchdown as the clock hit zeroes.
“I knew there was not a lot of time left but it didn’t affect how I was playing and running the play,” Ahrens said. “I ran it full-speed like it was a fresh quarter, having the confidence to know even if there was no time left, you’ve got to do what you do.”
TOUCHDOWN NO. 4
Sauk Centre kept up the aggressiveness when the second half rolled around, and it seemed no matter how risky the decision, the Streeters were finding pay dirt. Facing the heat from two approaching pass-rushers a few minutes into the third quarter, Ahrens managed to get the ball out to Schloegl, who broke a staggering four tackles on his way to a thrilling 41-yard score.
With athletic playmakers like Schloegl, Neubert and running back Austin Helgeson at his disposal, Ahrens finds himself as almost the ringmaster of a football circus, creating highlight-reel plays and scoring possibilities out of thin air.
“With high school football, you’ve got put on a show for the people in the crowd,” he said. “They want to see the cool stuff, the razzle dazzle, as Coach Krump would say.”
TOUCHDOWN NO. 5
It took less than two minutes for the Streeters to score again, with Ahrens hitting his targets at a rapid-fire rate.
Taking the snap out of the shotgun on 2nd-and-goal from the 10-yard-line, the talented thrower this time rolled out to the right for a designed comfort throw. Neubert caught the ball with space in front of him and turned it into his third receiving touchdown of the game.
Ahrens hopes to unlock more success for his team by continuing to utilize his mobility.
“That’s something I’ve worked on in the weight room with agility and moving laterally in practices, just getting good at it,” he said. “It carries into the arm strength I have and the confidence I have to make that throw running each way.”
TOUCHDOWN NO. 6
The record-setting throw was Ahrens’ boldest yet and will be seared into the minds of Streeter faithful for the rest of the year, if not longer.
Up by 30, Sauk Centre had little reason to throw the ball, with working the clock and securing the win coming as a top priority. Ahrens did not think he would receive another shot to break the record. However, when the play call came in, Ahrens made the most of it, heaving a throw on the run into double coverage to Neubert, who came down with the ball standing up in the back of the end zone.
It was a dangerous throw that had a low percentage of working. Ahrens, though, trusted his guy.
“You throw the ball to all of them, I know they’re going to catch it and make plays for me,” he said.
While the high-flying triumph gave Sauk Centre’s field general a chance to leave an individual footprint in the history books, he hopes everyone is ready for what the Streeters as a team can do in the coming weeks.
“We’re getting things going,” Ahrens said. “People better start watching out for Sauk Centre football. It’s on the come up.”