A goal-line stand. Then a booming punt. Both with the game on the line. Those were the pivotal plays as the White Bear Lake Bears held off Stillwater 24-14 at home Friday evening.
The Bears (2-1), leading 21-14, were poised to open a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter, driving to the Ponies 13. However, Stillwater shook loose a fumble from Bear quarterback Branden Berwald trying to escape the rush on a pass play.
The Ponies (1-2) drove 84 yards, with a mix of passes and runs, giving them a first down at the Bears five. So it was time for the Bears to dig in.
Two runs moved Stillwater to one foot from the goal line.
On third down, last play of the third quarter, Casey Venske’s quarterback sneak was thwarted by defensive tackles Mitchell Landsberger and Dylan Larson. On fourth down, first play of the final period, the Ponies sent Day off tackle. He was rebuffed also.
“The first one, we (tackles) went right through them, and the quarterback was right there,” Landsberger said. “On fourth down, they went to the right, and somebody hit him behind the line.”
That was safety Spencer Oxton, busting through to give Day enough of a jolt that he could not quite lunge to the goal line. He was about five inches short.
Heckuva goal-line-stand, Landsberger was told.
“Yeah, this will probably be one of our coolest memories of this season,” he grinned.
Asked what the mindset was, he said, “Our coaches tell us bend but don’t break — no matter how close they get, don’t quit, keep fighting, don’t give up that touchdown. When it got to fourth down we knew we could stop them.”
Coach Ryan Bartlett said much depended on No. 99 and 95.
“Larson and Landsberger, the DTs, they were they keys. Those two never miss weight-training, summer or winter.”
But the Bears had a new set of problems at that point, lining up with the tip of the ball five inches from their own goal line, trying to protect a seven-point lead. To complicate things further, they incurred three penalties on the next four plays.
“Oh, boy, penalties are killing us,” said Bartlett, shaking his head. “I think we could have run it out for there without all the penalties.”
On first down, they were flagged for holding, resulting in a 2 1/2-inch penalty (half the distance). On the do-over, the Bears gambled with Berwald dropping back to throw long. Incomplete. Two runs and two false-starts later, it was fourth and seven from the three. Their punter, Jeff Odamtten, stood just inside the back of the end zone.
Fortunately, Odamtten picked an optimum time to blast a 54-yard punt, the longest of his career.
“I knew I had to kick the ball HARD,” said Odamtten, asked what he was thinking while waiting for the snap. And he did. The ball soared over the return man, who was perched at midfield, and rolled dead at the Ponies 43. “I looked down the field and thought, oh, man, it went over him!”
Stillwater picked up two first downs. From the Bears’ 30, the Ponies almost got the tying touchdown on Venske’s pass to Luke Cullen, who caught seven for 83 yards but could not hang on to this one as he tumbled into the end zone.
With seven minutes left, the Bears executed a textbook drive for the situation, chewing up 65 yards, all on the ground, forcing Stillwater to use all their time outs, and called their own last time-out with 22 seconds left, at the five-yard line.
There, they turned it over the Odamtten again, this time for a field goal, which he drilled from 22 yards for the clincher. Odamtten also rushed eight time for 63 yards.
The Bears took a quick 14-0 lead on a pair of one-yard dives by Cam Zelenski, who carried 24 times for 104 yards. The second was set up by Brice Peters with an interception and 37-yard return.
Stillwater pulled even in the second quarter as Venske scored from the one, then passed to Tyler Thureson for a 17-yard score after the Bears fumbled on the kickoff.
The Bears regained a 21-14 lead as Peters scored on a 13-yard screen pass from Berwald in the final seconds of the half. That one was set up by Berwald’s 32-yard strike to Sammy Russ. Berwald was 6-for-10 for 72 yards.
The Bears rushed for 218 yards (on 41 carries) while holding Stillwater to 78 yards rushing and 115 passing.
The Bears will take on Cretin-Derham Hall (3-0) Friday at St. Thomas University.
Stillwater ………...…. 0 14 0 0 — 14
White Bear Lake ...… 14 7 0 3 — 24
WBL — Cam Zeleski 1 run (Jeff Odamtten kick)
WBL — Zaleski 1 run (Odamtten kick)
Stil — Casey Venske 1 run (Luke Cullen kick)
Stil — Tyler Thureson 17 pass from Venske (Cullen kick)
WBL — Brice Peters 9 pass from Branden Berwald (Odamtten kick)
WBL — Odamtten 22 field goal
Passing — Berwald 6-10-72-0
Rushing —Zaleski 24-104, Odamtten 8-63, Peters 7-30
Receiving — Russ 3-40, Peters 2-26, Nico Brown 1-6
Passing — Venske 10-24-115-1
Rushing — Jacob Day 25-78
Receiving — Luke Cullen 7-83