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A Heartbreaker Ends the Eagles’ Season

Senior+quarterback+Noah+Sanders+after+the+final+play.
Senior quarterback Noah Sanders after the final play.

Senior quarterback Noah Sanders after the final play.

Connor Van Hulzen

Connor Van Hulzen

Senior quarterback Noah Sanders after the final play.

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The Eagles’ season was cut just short of their preseason goal of going to U.S. Bank Stadium on two very unfortunate plays. Now, rather than preparing for more games, the Eagles are only left to wonder, “What if?”

The game started off slowly, with neither team being able to sustain a scoring drive through the entire first quarter.

Owatonna drew first blood, however, on their first drive of the second quarter. Following a 40-yard pass by quarterback Abe Havelka, Jason Williamson dashed for an 8-yard touchdown with 9:44 remaining in the half, putting the Huskies up 7-0.

After two more unsuccessful drives by each team, Apple Valley got the ball back with just 1:14 left in the half. After driving into Owatonna territory with only 40 seconds remaining, senior quarterback Noah Sanders hit Mohamed Kone in the left corner of the end zone to even it up, 7-7.

With only 11 seconds left in the half, Apple Valley kicked off and Owatonna set up for one last play before halftime. Havelka heaved a deep Hail Mary into a swarming group of players. It looked as though an Apple Valley player had caught the ball and ended the first half on the interception; however, as they came down with the ball, wide receiver Jay Sullivan pounced on the ball, stripped it and ran into the endzone untouched, making the score 14-7 in favor of Owatonna at half.

On the Eagles’ first drive of the second half, coaches put senior running back Mario Lewis to work. Lewis ran for 72 yards on that drive alone, propelling Apple Valley into the red zone.

Mario Lewis looks to run down the sideline.

Connor Van Hulzen
Mario Lewis looks to run down the sideline.

From there, the coaches pulled a play out of their bag of tricks. On what looked to be an end-around to a wide receiver, Sanders instead handed the ball off to Spencer Rolland, a 6’7”, 255-pound junior offensive lineman who ran around the corner and stretched out to reach the front right corner of the end zone, sending his teammates and the Apple Valley student section into a craze.

Another Eagles drive started with lengthy runs by both Sanders and Lewis, and with a facemask penalty called against the Huskies, the Eagles were already nearing their opponent’s red zone. On 4th and 6 from the Owatonna 22-yard line, Sanders again hit Kone for a clutch reception. But, on 4th down from the 2-yard line, the Eagles came up short. However, a perfectly timed penalty call on the Huskies gave the Eagles one more shot. This time from the 1-yard line, Noah Sanders dove over a pile of linemen to put Apple Valley up 21-14 over Owatonna.

To start the third quarter, Owatonna turned to the run game. Owatonna was able to run right down the field on their way to the end zone, and on 4th and 4 from the Eagles five yard line, fullback Mitch Wiese scored, drawing the score even.

After a stalled drive the Eagles got back on defense and hoped to stop Owatonna’s development of their running game. In a surprising turn of events, the Huskies fumbled deep in their own territory. Junior linebacker Jackson Green recovered the fumble on the Huskies’ 13-yard line, putting Apple Valley in a prime position to strike.On 4th down from the 18-yard line, the Eagles elected to kick. Senior kicker Ford Friedel lined up and drilled home a 35-yard field goal with just over a minute left in the game, giving the Eagles a 24-21 lead.

The student section cheers on the Eagles

Connor Van Hulzen
The student section cheers on the Eagles

Arguably questionable penalties lead to Owatonna starting from their own 40 yard line. The Huskies drove to the Apple Valley 45, but stalled there. On 4th down, Havelka again heaved the ball towards the end zone just hoping for a receiver to be standing there to catch it. Much like their Hail Mary to end the first half, the ball bounced off a pair of hands in a pile of players and into the hands of Alex Raichle, giving Owatonna the win, 28-24.

After the game, many players were visibly shaken: some crying, others kneeling or laying on the turf, a few hugging parents, friends, and coaches. Asking them what this team meant to them lead to answers showing just how close this team is and how much this game meant to the players.

Senior linebacker Ben Speece looks on as time expires.

Connor Van Hulzen
Senior linebacker Ben Speece looks on as time expires.

Senior Jake Ertz: “A lot. We went through hell everyday together. It was more than just Friday nights, and even though I may not have played all that much, it was still a dream to just be able to hang out on the sidelines with these guys.”

Senior Shane Sande: “It means family. I love every guy on this team with all my heart. Every play, every second of this game, I played for the team, the coaches, the fans, and my family.”

Senior Tanyi Besong: “It means everything. I grew up with a lot of these guys. We’re all really close. We worked so hard and have gone through everything together. It just sucks to lose on a lucky play like that.”

Junior Trey Kocher: “It’s a second family. We have our ups and our downs, we might fight, but it’s still a really close group. Football makes a bond that can’t be broken and that kind of love is rare.”

The Eagles had a successful season and defied expectations of many. Ending the season 5-3 playing against 6A competition as a 5A school is no small feat. Apple Valley finished fourth in its conference behind teams that lost only four combined games. Congratulations to the team on their season; hopefully we can get back there again next year.

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A Heartbreaker Ends the Eagles’ Season