CENTRAL CITY – St. Paul’s defensive line showed what kinds of headaches it can cause for opposing teams this season Friday.
The big front four of the Class C-2 No. 5-rated Wildcats shut down Central City’s running game and kept quarterback Michael Rutherford scrambling for most of the game.
That, along with the offensive line’s dominance, helped lead St. Paul to a 34-13 victory.
The defensive lineman – including Nathan Scheer (250 pounds), Kaleb Pedersen (337), Gunnar Nyberg (170) and Logan Vogel (205) – provided pressure on Rutherford all game.
That also opened the door for sacks from linebackers Eli Larson and Trevor Dugan.
“We knew if we kept the pressure, they’d have trouble picking up our linebackers when we did blitz,” St. Paul coach Rusty Fuller said. “When we sat back and let them throw the ball, that’s when we got into a little bit of trouble. Once our D-linemen started getting some pressure, we’d send one linebacker and that made a big difference.”
Central City was held to minus-17 yards on 28 carries.
“We just knew we had to stop the run,” Pedersen said. “The coaches told us that’s what we needed to do.”
Rutherford finished with minus-13 yards on 20 carries after being dropped for negative yards 12 times.
“The quarterback was definitely the guy that we were interested in,” Scheer said. “If we kept pressure on him, there was no one else coming. That line definitely gave up after the first smack in the mouth. With that pressure, we could definitely take care of some business.”
Central City coach Troy Huebert said that pressure by the defensive line along with dropped passes and mistakes led to a rough opening night for the Bison.
“We knew that they were big, we knew that they were going to be physical,” he said. “They just beat us at the point of attack all night, and we couldn’t get anything going. In our offense, we have to be able to run the ball. We’ve got to be able to do both, run and pass, and we weren’t able to do that.”
After a scoreless first quarter, St. Paul took a 12-0 lead into the half. Jackson Seward took a short pass from Brenden Knapp and turned it into a 46-yard touchdown up the right sideline.
Knapp capped off the next drive with a 6-yard TD plunge on third down.
“We gave them short fields a couple of times with turnovers, and to only allow 12 points I would say is a really good performance from us,” Huebert said. “We have to be able to score.”
St. Paul’s run game really got going in the third quarter. The line of Nyberg, Dawson Fox, Tyson Rasmussen, Scheer and Pedersen helped open holes for Larson to run for touchdowns of 59, 3 and 80 yards in the period.
Larson finished with 218 yards on 20 carries while the Wildcats only attempted seven passes.
“When you’ve got the best running back in the state, you’ve got to give him the ball,” Fuller said. “Our philosophy is to run the trap game – very old-school and keep it simple. Our quarterback Brenden Knapp made some very nice reads, and then when you give Eli the ball he’s going to make people miss.”
Fuller said the linemen had a nice outing, especially with most of them playing both ways.
“We knew that we had a size advantage up front, so we thought that we had to control the line of scrimmage,” he said. “Our big boys did a nice job. As fast as (Central City) played, we didn’t have them cramping.
“We cramped with our skill kids, but our big guys hung out there the whole game.”
The teams combined for three touchdowns in a span of 31 seconds near the end of the third quarter, with St. Paul gaining two.
After Larson’s 3-yard score, Jake Twiss took a lateral out in the left flat and tossed a 43-yard touchdown strike to Christian Coleman to get the Bison on the scoreboard.
But on the next play from scrimmage, Larson rumbled for an 80-yard score.
“After we score and they come right back, that was a nail in the coffin,” Huebert said.