Stillwater running back Nick Anderson ran against Woodbury earlier this season. The running back is out for the season after tearing his triceps against Mounds View on Sept. 28 after gaining 205 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Photo by Marlin Levison •
Injuries are part of the game -- and the Stillwater football team has suffered its fair share.
Sprains, tears and broken bones aside, the Ponies still managed to capture the Suburban East Conference championship after beating Hastings 21-14 Wednesday night to close out the regular season. It also earned them the No. 1 seed in Class 6A Section 2.
The key to the crown? A 17-14 victory over rival Mounds View on Sept. 28. Like most teams, the Ponies have had their difficulties against Mounds View in the past decade. But Stillwater's big victory is all the more impressive because the Ponies had a few extra obstacles this time around: A couple of poor weeks of practice leading up to the game -- and injuries.
Stillwater was without three starters, including guards Danny Buege, Derek Thingvold and playmaker quarterback Nate Ricci. Stillwater's defense created three turnovers and came up with key fourth-down stops to put the Ponies in a position to win the game.
They were able to run the football, but not without cost. Nick Anderson ran for 205 yards on 37 carries and scored two touchdowns, But on his last carry -- one short of the school record -- he tore his tricep. After getting the MRI results, it was learned he would be out for the rest of the season.
The loss of Ricci, injured before the Mounds View game, appeared to be devastating. The senior not only manages the offense, runs the football and passes effectively, but also returns kicks and punts, including five for touchdowns this season. He's even played important downs on defense late in the games.
But because Ricci has suffered injury problems and the risk increases with his added involvement, some might not agree with the coaching staff's decisions to play him in nearly every aspect of the game.
There are two schools of thought: Some say he's too valuable as a quarterback to be used in other situations.
"And then there's our school of thought, that says, 'This kid can play,'" LaBore said. "The more situations we can get him on the field, the better. That's the way we go about it. That's the way he would want to go about it. We want him to be out there as much as we can. We wouldn't be the same team if he wasn't."
Ricci joined a lengthy injury list. Earlier in the season, junior tailback Jake Olson suffered a broken collarbone on just the second play of the year. Now sophomore Zach Knox is the primary ball carrier. Knox shouldered the load in Stillwater's 28-19 victory over Roseville two Fridays ago with 31 carries, 149 yards and touchdowns.
"You've got to have faith that you're going to make something happen," LaBore said. "If a guy gets injured you have to be ready to put the next guy in."
The defense has been ready this year, consistently making key stops. Marvin Lerol and Sebastin Borges anchor the defensive line. Senior captain Cody Floen is a staple at middle linebacker. Linebacker and fellow captain Sam Hodnefield has come up with three blocked kicks, three interceptions -- two of which came in the Mounds View game.
It's truly an all-around effort over by the St. Croix River this fall. Now it's time to carry that momentum into the postseason.
"We've won games by playing team football," LaBore said. "That's the way we have to do it."