After three consecutive road games, Orono finally had it’s first home game Friday night facing rival Waconia, the third consecutive 5A school on the Spartan schedule. Behind it’s ball hawking, run stopping defense, big plays from it’s seniors, and big contributions from younger players, Orono rallied to a 26-6 victory. “It was great to be back home playing in front of our community – we love the support Orono gives our football program, I’m glad we were able to give them a big win tonight” said head coach Joe McPherson following the game.
The Spartans got off to a slow start against Waconia falling behind 6-0 early in the 1st quarter. With two starters already sidelined, the Spartans lost two way catalyst Dave Wilfert in the first quarter as well. Things looked challenging as Waconia drove deep into Spartan territory early in the second quarter. The Orono defense bent and did not break stopping Waconia on 4th and 7 at the Orono 19 yard line. Orono made some solid offensive adjustments and moved to a short passing attack featuring Quarterback Teddy Deters. In his highest volume passing game of the year, 14 of 24 for 149 yards, two passing touchdowns to go along with 13 carries for 73 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Orono drove the field and scored it’s first touchdown on a phenomenal catch by Noah Arneson. On 1st and goal from the 6 yard line and Deters rolled to his left and under pressure saw Arneson open in the back left corner of the end zone. Deters pass looked like a sure touchdown until a Waconia defensive back tipped it. Arneson made a sensational on handed catch of the deflected ball while keeping his feet in bounds. Jack Kalman added the point after and Orono led 7-6. The Orono defense made another big play as Waconia tried to find a way to get back in the game. On first down at the Spartan 48, Joey Tilzer and Connor Chappell caused a fumble that sophomore linebacker Nash Tichy jumped on and sent the Spartans into half with a 7-6 lead. Coach McPherson talked about his defense, “Holding Waconia to less than 120 TOTAL yards was a great accomplishment for our defense tonight – their running back is one of the best in the state and came into the game averaging about 8 yds/carry.”
The second half showcased Orono’s ability to execute in all phases of the game. The Spartans also got some big plays from a couple of sophomores. Coach McPherson talked about his teams approach, “Playing without 2 key starters this week and losing another one early in the game our players had to overcome some adversity but they did that and our younger players stepped up big.” The opening kick of the second half turned the momentum decisively in Orono’s favor. Sophomores Nash Tichy and Oliver Stevenson knocked the ball away from the Waconia returner and Gavin Gustafson jumped on the fumble at the Waconia 31 yard line. A holding call forced Orono into a 3rd and 12 at the 33 yard line and Deters found a wide open Ryan Rudd at the 1 yard line. Rudd had 2 catches for 58 yards in the game. Deters scored on the next play and the Kalman Kick put Orono up 14-6.
Starting the next drive at their own 35, The Spartans marched down to the Waconia 16 yard line. This drive featured some crafty runs by senior Gavin Gustafson who stepped into the lead back role early in the 1st quarter. Gustafson provided a strong ground attack for Orono and reeled off 87 yards on 21 carries. The Spartans failed to convert on 3rd & 7 and Jack Kalman drilled the 28 yard field goal to give Orono a 17-6 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter Waconia faced a punting situation at it’s own 35 yard line. Shea Albrecht, on an outstanding individual effort, broke through the middle of the Waconia line and blocked the punt which sailed out of the back of the end zone for a safety and a 19-7 Orono lead. The Spartans started their ensuing drive at the 50 yard line after the free kick and drove down to the 4 yard line where Deters hit Arneson for their second touchdown connection of the night. The Kalman kick sealed the game at 26-6.
“We are excited to get the opportunity to play each week because with the environment we are in you never know when it will be pulled away from us – I’m proud of this team for taking things one day at a time and I know our players will continue to do that for the remainder of the season.” Commented coach McPherson following the game. The Spartans came into the game carrying the #2 ranking in class 4A and will face their fourth consecutive 5A school in St. Louis Park this coming Saturday at noon. “I’m confident that anyone that sees us play knows we are one of the top 4A schools in the state – I’m excited for our players to continue to show that week in and week out for the rest of the season.”