Special teams spark special win for Trojans

Special teams and field position proved to be the difference as the New Prague Trojans advanced to the state Class AAAA football semifinals for the second straight year with a 24-6 win over Sartell-St. Stephen Friday. The game was played at St. Cloud State University's Husky Stadium.

The Trojans will face Totino-Grace at 12:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Metrodome. The other semifinal will be Friday between St. Thomas Academy and Benilde-St. Margaret's.

Both Sartell and New Prague played strong defensive games, but it was New Prague's special teams play that made all the difference, especially the punting unit.

Twice, the Trojans' Ryan Witty downed a Tony Kubes punt on the one yard line, and on two other occasions the Trojans lined up to punt and ended up with a first down. Once, the punt bounced off a Sartell player's helmet and was recovered by the Trojans and the other time, after a bad snap, Kubes saw the kick would be blocked, avoided the rusher and ran nine yards for a first down.

The average starting spot for Sartell's nine possessions was the 20 yard line. Their best starting field position was their own 38-yard line. Except for their touchdown, which came on a 45-yard pass, the deepest penetration the Sabres would get would come on their last drive of the game, when they stalled out on the Trojan 16.

Sartell took the opening drive and marched into Trojan territory. They kept the ball on the ground and got a couple of big gains, getting to the Trojan 41. A holding penalty pushed them back and the Sabres turned the ball over on downs to the Trojans.

After a Trojan punt, the Sabres threw an interception, with Tony Kubes picking the ball off and the Trojans started at the Sartell 44. They couldn't move the ball, though, and had to punt. The ball hit inside the Sabre 15 and bounced toward the end zone. Witty grabbed the ball at the 1-yard line, walked a tight-rope along the goal line and stepped out of bounds to pin the Sabres back deep in their own territory. Three plays later the Sabres were forced to punt and the Trojans took over at their own 41.

Trojans take the lead

New Prague converted on a third and four with a 12-yard pass to Kubes. The drive stalled just inside the 20, and Kubes came on to kick a 36-yard field goal that cleared the crossbar by inches to give his team a 3-0 lead with 11:50 remaining in the second quarter.

Sartell's offense faltered again and they were forced to punt. New Prague returned the favor, punting to the Sabres, but the ball went off a Sartell player's helmet and the Trojans recovered at the Sabres' 31.

Quarterback Ross Skluzacek gained eight yards on a second down play, then drew a Sartell defender offside with his cadence for a first down. The Trojans kept the ball on the ground and Kubes scored from two yards out. His point after made it 10-0 Trojans with 5:02 left in the half.

Sartell put together a nice drive on the ensuing possession, but the Trojans' stopped them for no gain on a fourth-and-1 play, and the half ended with New Prague up 10-0.

Sartell comes back

The second half began with the Trojans going three-and-out, and Sartell took over on their own 16. They put together their best drive of the night, advancing to the Trojan 45, then scoring on a 45-yard pass. The Trojans blocked the extra point and New Prague led 10-6 with 5:38 left in the third.

New Prague responded with a scoring drive of their own. Daren Geyen broke open for a 26-yard gain on second and long, and Skluzacek got another Sartell defender to jump offside for another first down. He threw a pass up the middle to Kubes, who went 16 yards for another first down, and Geyen took the ball on the next play and gained 15, putting the ball inside the 10. He carried the next three plays, scoring on a third and goal from the one. Kubes' kick made it 17-6 with 52.3 seconds left in the third.

Geyen, Kubes hurt

The next series was a scary one for the Trojans, as their two top backs went down on successive plays. Geyen twisted an ankle trying to make a tackle on a first down play, and on the next play, a big Sartell gain was wiped out because of a blocking from behind penalty that left Kubes on the turf. Geyen had his ankle taped, but didn't play again. Kubes would return to play early in the fourth quarter. Both are expected to play Thursday.

Sartell couldn't move the ball and punted. The Trojans returned the favor again, with Witty getting in front of the ball and downing it at the 2-yard line.

Two plays later, Brad Weiers broke through and got a hand on the Sartell quarterback in the end zone. His throw was off the mark and Dan Sletten, playing for the injured Kubes, leaped high and caught the ball, with one foot landing in bounds for an interception.

Final score

Two plays later Skluzacek threw to Marcus Pleiss for a touchdown, giving the Trojans a 24-6 lead with 8:39 left. Sartell would put one more drive together, going from their own 18 to the Trojan 13, but a sack and an incompletion on fourth down gave New Prague the ball back, and they ran out the clock.

Sartell outgained the Trojans (269 yards to 239), and had more first downs (12-10). However, Sartell had three turnovers while New Prague had none, and the Trojans had only three penalties for 20 yards, while Sartell drew five flags for 50 yards, with a couple of those flags coming at crucial points in the game.

We came up with a number of big stops

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