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Blaze makes big plays late in the game

09/12/2016, 3:00pm CDT
By By Mike Shaughnessy

Jake Shepley’s three interceptions push Burnsville past Lakeville South

Friday didn’t start well for Burnsville, but by nightfall the Blaze got what it was looking for.

Even after the Blaze outlasted Lakeville South 14-7 in overtime at Dick Hanson Field – the site of a halftime tribute to the former Burnsville High School teacher and football coach, who died in January – captain Jake Shepley and coach Tyler Krebs sounded warnings that the team would need to improve to extend its season-opening two-game winning streak. Burnsville, ranked ninth in Class 6A, faces its biggest test so far this season when it plays at second-ranked Lakeville North at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16.

“We need to be a lot less sloppy. This whole week we were just being late, we were off,” said Shepley, who intercepted three Lakeville South passes, including one that ended the game in overtime. “We need to be going 100 percent. (Last Friday) we were late to meetings. We can’t have that, especially on the day of a game. We have to get our minds right, today, to get ready for the next game.”

Krebs said Burnsville’s preparation last week wasn’t ideal, and yet the Blaze still managed to win – which, in a roundabout way, says something about the kind of team it could become.

“The good teams find ways to win,” the coach said. “The last two weeks we’ve done that. We haven’t played as well as we can play, so obviously the goal is to play better so we’re not in situations like that. But I’m proud of our effort and proud of how we played in overtime.”

A few Burnsville players sat out part of Friday’s game after being late to meetings. The coaches had the players return to the locker room and return as a team in an effort to get the point across.

“It happens. They’re kids, and we’re trying to teach them to become young men,” Krebs said. “That’s part of growing up, understanding deadlines and when to be places, and not showing up a minute before.”

Once the game started, Burnsville for the most part had no problem with knowing where it needed to be. The Blaze took the lead less than a minute into the game when Steph Olson Jr. scored on a 74-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. The Blaze didn’t score again until overtime, when Jackson Martens punched it in from 4 yards.

Burnsville’s defense, which held Lakeville South to 176 yards, had a lot to with the Blaze having a chance to win in overtime. “I feel like it was all our defense. Our linemen had a hell of a game. It was unreal,” Shepley said.

Lakeville South scored early in the second quarter on a 5-yard pass from Tyler Mahlman to Ben Huddock. The Cougars (0-2) took advantage of a short-field situation after a Burnsville punt was downed at the Blaze 49.

Each team managed a drive deep into the other’s territory in the second half, but Lakeville South’s possession ended on Shepley’s second interception of the game. Burnsville got to the South 11-yard line in the fourth quarter before a holding penalty and two big losses shoved the Blaze backward.

On third and eight in overtime, South’s Brady Torborg looked for receiver Shae Mitchell near the sideline, but Shepley stepped in front to intercept the pass and end the game.

“I was cramping up and I thought in the back of my head, ‘They’re probably going to throw it toward me,’ ” Shepley said. “I knew it was going to be a fade or comeback. I had to read the wide receiver, No. 80 (Mitchell), who’s a great athlete. He came back and I read it perfectly, like I did in practice. It was good coaching, too.”

Krebs noted that Shepley could have had an even bigger game because when the senior played receiver he was open on a couple of passes over the middle that could have gone for touchdowns. In both cases, however, the passes just missed connecting.

Lakeville South’s speedy running back tandem of Jeremiah Jacobson and Logan Gudmundson had 71 and 42 yards. More than half of Jacobson’s total came on one play, a 38-yard sprint in the third quarter.

“If they get into space, they’re really dangerous,” Krebs said. “There was one long run that we’d like to have back, but for the most part I thought we did a good job of containing them, swarming to the ball and gang-tackling them.”

Burnsville’s Olson rushed 14 times for 145 yards. Martens gained 85 yards on 13 carries. Both also played important roles on Burnsville’s defense – particularly Martens, who had 10 solo tackles and 12 tackles overall.

The Blaze needs two-way contributions from several of its top players, but at the same time the coaches need to manage those players’ workload.

“First of all, they’re warriors. It’s hard at this level of football to (play both ways),” Krebs said. “What we’re trying to do is play them on defense full-time and platoon them on offense. They have to be on the field, like Kamal (Martin) last year, because they’re just so talented. Every time they have the ball in their hands, something can happen. That’s why we have Steph returning punts. He can make something out of nothing.”

Lakeville South took its second consecutive tough-to-swallow defeat. The Cougars lost to Cretin-Derham Hall 19-14 on Sept. 1 when the Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes. South will seek its first victory at 7 p.m. Friday at Eagan, which also is 0-2 after losing to Lakeville North 42-7 last week.

Krebs sounded relieved to have gotten by Lakeville South.

“They should have beaten Cretin by a couple of touchdowns, and now they’ve lost two heartbreaking games. But they’re going to be a good team all year long,” Krebs said.

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