Two bounces resuscitated Burnsville’s season.
The Blaze were down 7-0 to Stillwater at home in the third quarter on Friday night and had yet to do anything that could be interpreted as moving the ball when senior quarterback Isiaah Harston dropped back for his only pass attempt of the night.
The play was called Pacer, a double post route. The target was senior receiver Jake Shepley. The pass was too high, or Shepley jumped far too early – likely a combination of the two. It seemed destined to fall incomplete or be intercepted. But then it hit off a Stillwater defender, then a Burnsville receiver and all of a sudden was floating in the air like a bubble, and all Shepley had to do was grab a ball that was somehow right back in front of his face.
He caught the pass, ran about 30 more yards and scored to cap off a 51-yard touchdown to tie the score. Burnsville went on to win 21-14 in Burnsville to advance to the second round of the Class 6A playoffs. The Blaze (7-2), who have won their past nine home games, will play at second-seeded Minnetonka next week.
“That’s what changed the whole game momentum-wise,” Shepley said. “That just brought us up, because we kept getting down a little bit. … Our sideline wasn’t really that good, but when that happened, I came on the sideline and it was just completely different.”
Stillwater retook the lead five minutes later when senior running back Jackson Dunleap scored on a 63-yard touchdown run. But that’s about when Burnsville’s running game started to roll. The one-two punch of Stephan Olson Jr. and Jackson Martens ripped off chunks of yardage one carry after another, which led to a 4-yard touchdown run by Olson to tie the score early in the fourth.
A blocked Stillwater punt returned by Harston to the Ponies’ 4-yard line set up an Olson touchdown a few minutes later to give Burnsville its first lead and the only one it needed.
“We’ve only had a couple punts blocked in 12 years,” Stillwater coach Beau LaBore said. “They made a huge play on special teams. We needed one more big play.”
The sixth-seeded Ponies (5-4) almost had it. Stillwater blocked a Burnsville field-goal attempt with 30 seconds to play. Had the kick gone backward, Stillwater could have returned it for a big gain. Instead it stayed near the line of scrimmage, and Stillwater recovered but couldn’t create an offensive miracle in the closing moments.
On this night, the bounces went Burnsville’s way.
“Football’s a crazy game,” LaBore said.
Stillwater dominated the first half but led only 7-0 at the break. And while the Ponies didn’t have any obvious missed opportunities, it felt like they could have been up by more than one score.
“We are a team that bends and doesn’t break,” Olson said.
They are also a team that’s one win away from their second consecutive state tournament berth.
“This team has got a chance to make a run,” Blaze coach Tyler Krebs told his team after the game. “We are talented enough to make a run.”