ROCHESTER MAYO 58, Owatonna 31
ROCHESTER — Buoyed by its obvious talent, yet equally hampered by its inexperience, the youthful Owatonna football team flashed some serious potential on Friday night, but simply yielded too many big plays and lost in a season-opening Big Southeast District Red Division showdown at Spartan Stadium.
The defeat marks the first 0-1 start for the Huskies since the 2016 season and the 58 points the most allowed since late September of 2014.
The already-depleted OHS defense — which began the game without preseason all-state linebacker Grant Achterkirch due to injury and only added to the walking-wounded after kickoff — was gashed for five touchdowns of 40 or more yards, the first of which came on the Spartans’ opening snap when Noah Smith out-ran the OHS defense from 51 yards just 80 seconds after the opening kickoff. The senior ended with 188 rushing yards and four TDs on 21 carries.
Rochester Mayo also forced five turnovers and returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns in the second quarter. In fact, the Spartans found the end zone on two of their first three offensive plays and manufactured five scoring drives of four or fewer snaps.
“That team is going to make explosive plays,” OHS coach Jeff Williams said. “They put us in a difficult position because Smith is one of the best running backs they’ve had in years and with the guys they also have at receiver and throwing the football, you are basically dedicating six guys to the run, and he made a lot of guys miss. We didn’t tackle well and (Smith) made us pay.”
Despite the obvious issues on both sides of the ball, the Huskies found themselves in the thick of a two-score game and staring across the line at a Rochester Mayo team that was facing 4th-and-5 near midfield with just under four minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter.
And then, the back-breaker.
Bursting off the line of scrimmage and gaining a step-and-a-half on his defender down the right sideline, senior speedster, Cayden Holcomb, snatched a perfectly-spiraled pass from classmate Bennett Ellsworth and waltzed into the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown to give MHS a 51-31 cushion with 3:54 on the clock. Holcomb finished with a team-high six receptions for 103 yards.
Before the game-clinching bomb, Huskies’ quarterback Taylor Bogen — aided by a number of teammates — had engineered a nearly-flawless half of offensive football, connecting on 8 of 9 passes at one point and tossing three TDs in an 11-minute span. Making his first career start, the senior shook off an inconsistent opening 24 minutes and ultimately finished 20-for-32 for 326 yards and four passing touchdowns.
“I thought the way he settled in during the second half was a major bright spot,” Williams said of Bogen. “I thought he took command, and when he had time, he made some plays. He was smooth and comfortable in the pocket and I thought he took a big step forward.”
Steady fullback-turned-playmaking dynamo, Nick Williams, led the overhauled receiver group with nine grabs for 205 yards and one touchdown. Junior Ayden Walter made up for an early fumble on a kickoff and scored a team-high two receiving touchdowns to go with 64 yards on five receptions.
Tailback Dylan Maas didn’t have much luck on the ground, ending with just 25 yards on 12 carries, but caught a touchdown pass in the middle of the fourth quarter to draw Owatonna within 45-31 at the 5:02-mark. The score was the second of two quick Owatonna TDs that erased a huge deficit that peaked at 45-17 late in the third quarter.
“They showed some resilience tonight,” Jeff Williams said. “They kept coming back and there are some things we can build upon here.”
Defensively, sophomore Owen Beyer was one of the chief highlights for the Huskies after displaying excellent coverage skills and playmaking instincts at cornerback. He locked steps with both fleet-footed brothers, Cayden and Carter Holcomb, and batted away three passes.
“We love Owen’s athleticism and headiness,” Williams said. “With sophomores, we try to do our best to put them in position to succeed, and he stepped up tonight.”
Junior kicker Drew Henson drilled a 40-yard field goal attempt in the first half that was nullified due to a Mayo penalty, but responded by connecting on a 31-yarder roughly two minutes later. He was also perfect on extra points and nailed five touchbacks.
“He’s a weapon,” Williams said. “He has the leg strength of (2014 graduate and former Division II All-American) Carter McCauley and was just pounding everything tonight. Forcing teams to go 80 yards (after kickoffs) is a big deal.”
Preseason all-state running back/starting linebacker, Conner Grems, rang up a huge sack in the first half, but left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. Starting defensive lineman Ryley Glassmaker was also reduced to street clothes by the fourth quarter while lineman Alex Jarvis didn’t even dress for the game.
“We’re a little snake-bitten when it comes to that,” Williams said of his team’s mounting injuries. “Part of this process is going to be getting healthy and getting our players on the field.”
Achterkirch’s wrist injury — coupled with Bogen’s strong performance against the Spartans — likely means the playmaking linebacker will start on just one side of the ball when he returns, which will likely be within the next 1-3 weeks.
As a team Owatonna was held to just 56 rushing yards on 31 attempts…Mayo’s reigning All-District HM receiver, Carter Holcomb, was held to zero receptions…Before opening things up, OHS started the game in a tight, shoulder-to-shoulder formation, harkening back to the program’s Double-Wing philosophy… Ellsworth — who averaged 216 passing yards-per-game last season — completed 9 of 20 throws for 119 yards and one touchdown…Mayo has three dropped passes.
Defensively, the Huskies have a lot of work ahead of them and playing without Grant Achterkirch clearly had a major impact on the entire unit. The Huskies will also need to shore things up on the offensive line, but their quarterback, Taylor Bogen, has a cannon for an arm and turned some heads with a streak of downright awesome play in the second half. There’s a lot to like about this Owatonna team, but there’s just as much that needs to be fixed moving forward.
Owatonna: 0-1 overall, 0-1 Big Southeast District; 0-1 vs. Section 1-5A
Opponent: 1-0 overall, 1-0 Big Southeast District; 1-0 vs. Section 1-5A
Passing: Taylor Bogen 20-for-32, 326 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Dylan Maas 12 carries, 25 yards
Receiving: Nick Williams 9 catches, 205 yards, TD; Ayden Walter 5 catches-64 yards, 2 TD; Caleb Hullopeter 1 catch, 26 yards
Defense: Conner Grems 1 sack; Owen Beyer 3 PD
Special teams: Drew Henson 31-yard FG; 4-for-4 extra points
Week 2: vs. Rochester Century (0-1 overall, 0-1 Red Division)
About the Panthers: Lost to New Prague 28-6 on the road in Week 1 and enters the new season needing to replace all four of its all-district performers from 2020.