Exciting finish seals 22-13 road win.
Since the move to District football schedules, the toughest part of Orono’s schedule comes when they step up to play 5A schools. That test for 2020 started on Friday night against the #8 class 5A Cooper Hawks. Orono was looking to build on it’s dominant win at Benilde St Margaret’s against a Hawk team fresh off a hard fought 20-13 win over Waconia. In a game that would go from a defensive battle to a second half shoot out, Orono relied on it’s run stopping- turnover forcing defense and big plays from it’s senior led offense to seal the victory.
Defense dominated the first half and the Orono defense set the tone on Cooper’s opening drive. On 4th and 2 in Orono territory, senior linebacker Dave Wilfert and junior defensive tackle Sam Swenson stopped Cooper running back Camden Royal for no gain giving the ball back to Orono. Spartan head coach Joe McPherson talked about his defense after the game. “Holding Cooper to only 23 rushing yards says a lot about our defensive mentality and toughness.” Senior Graham Beltrand stopped a Cooper drive later in the half. Reading the Cooper quarterback Beltrand jumped in front of the Cooper receiver for an interception and took the ball down the Hawk 30 yd line. The Spartans were unable to turn that into points and in a back and forth half, it was Orono’s defense that set up the first score of the game. With 4:04 remaining in the half and the Hawks pinned deep in the their own end, sophomore linebacker Bradley Walker blitzed off the left side delivering a big hit on the Cooper running back causing a fumble that was recovered by senior defensive end Andrew Mandell. The Spartans had 1st and goal on the Hawk 7-yard line and were unable to break the Cooper defense. Junior kicker Jack Kalman drilled the 24 yard field goal to give the Spartans a 3-0 at the half.
Orono would open the second half using it’s formula of creating turnovers on defense and turning them into scores. On Cooper’s opening drive of the second half, senior linebacker Joey Tilzer stripped the ball from a Hawk running back and senior defensive end Connor Chappell recovered it. Quarterback Teddy Deters used his legs and his arm on key plays leading to Orono’s first touchdown. On 3rd and 14 Deters found room down the right side for a first down. He hit senior wide receiver Mike Wojciechowski for an 11 yard gain and then found senior running back Dave Wilfert on a short pass near the goal line. On 4th and short from the 2 yard line, Orono brough in it’s goal line offense and junior running back Aiden Muller used strong blocking and a nifty cut to his left to put Orono up 9-0. The ensuing possession by Cooper showcased Orono’s defense and the importance of making plays to force your opponent into mistakes. On first down senior defensive tackle tackle Johnny Harstad chased the Cooper quarterback down for a sack. On second down, a long pass down the left side looked to be a completion until senior Noah Arneson, made an incredible play stripping the ball away for an incompletion. In talking about his defensive effort, Coach McPherson said, “Our defense flew around the field tonight, I was proud of the way they stayed disciplined and did not give up and big plays.” An incompletion on the next play forced a Cooper punt on 4th and long from deep in their own end. The snap on the punt sailed over the punters head and Wilfert and Walker brought him down at the 3 yd line. Running behind his big line, Muller took the next play in for his second touchdown of the night and a 15-0 Orono late in the third quarter. Mueller led the Orono rushing attach with 27 carries for 73 yards.
Cooper responded in it’s next drive and scored a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter and a Joey Tilzer sack on the failed two point conversion kept it a two score game at 15-6. Tilzer had a big night recording 12 tackles include 4 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. With the Spartans next drive stalled the Hawks forced a punt and a botched snap gave Cooper the ball at the Spartan 25 yard line. Cooper took advantage, scoring a touchdown on the second play and cutting the Orono lead to 15-13 with 8:05 remaining. Suddenly it was a battle! Starting deep in their own end, Orono got the toughest running of the night from Mueller who gained two crucial first downs and kept the clock running. The Cooper defense forced Orono into a 3rd and 10 from it’s own 36 yard line. With the game in the balance, Orono Offensive Coordinator Rusty Olson reached a little deeper into his playbook and found some magic. Graham Beltrand came in motion from the left side and took a pitch from Deters. Beltrand rolled to his right and with good protection stepped up and fired a strike to Noah Arneson running a deep post and getting a couple of steps on his defender. Arneson caught the ball in stride and the foot race was on. A Cooper defensive back tried to stop him at the 5 yard line and Arneson carried him into the end zone. The Kalman kick put Orono on top two scores at 22-13 with 3:47 left in the game. “The halfback pass to seal the game was executed perfectly and fun to watch.” Said McPherson.
Before sending them onto the field, McPherson inspired his defense to give up no more scores and they responded. With Cooper needing to move the ball quickly and facing 3rd and 5, the Hawk QB was flushed to his right under heavy pressure from Mandel. Walker, with great coverage on the receiver knocked the ball into the air where Beltrand snagged it for his second pick of the game and sealed the win for Orono.
The 2-0 Spartans head into their third consecutive and final road game of the regular season at Chaska this Friday and McPherson looked ahead “We play #1 ranked 5A Chaska this week – it will be our toughest challenge yet, but I know our team is ready for it. We have beaten 2 really good teams and are looking forward to seeing how we stack up against the defending 5A State Champs.”