Keep things simple, and good things will happen on the football field, Burnsville captain Jake Shepley said.
“My personal thing is, just play football,” he said. “Just play as hard as you can. If you think too much about your job, you’ll mess up. Everybody makes errors, but if you’re going 100 percent and you make a play, it’ll be a big play.”
The big plays were there to be had for Burnsville in the second half of its 21-14 Class 6A playoff victory over Stillwater last Friday at Dick Hanson Field. Early in the third quarter, Shepley caught a twice-deflected pass and ran it into the end zone for a 51-yard score, tying the game 7-7. That shook the Blaze out of its funk after a first half in which it did little on offense.
A blocked punt by Isiaah Harston in the fourth quarter set up a go-ahead touchdown run by Steph Olson Jr., and the Blaze (7-2) held off the Ponies (5-4) the rest of the way.
“Sometimes you need to have something like (the deflected pass) to happen to get some momentum going in the right direction. I feel like we were a little flat, and that play got things going for us,” Burnsville coach Tyler Krebs said.
As for the Blaze’s first-half problems, “a lot of that was (Stillwater),” Krebs said. “They played really well defensively and we had a hard time moving the ball. We had a few big plays in the second half, the tipped pass, the blocked punt, a couple of big runs by Steph and Jackson (Martens). Football’s a game of emotion, and you need to feed off that.”
Burnsville, which went 5-0 at home this season, goes on the road for the rest of its playoff run. The Blaze plays at Minnetonka (7-2), a 57-6 winner over Forest Lake, in the round of 16 at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4. Any games after that would be at neutral sites. The Blaze, of course, is aiming for the ultimate neutral site – U.S. Bank Stadium, where the final two rounds of the playoffs will be held.
“We’ll play wherever,” said senior lineman Matt Gilray. “It doesn’t matter where we play, we’ll find a way.”
Stillwater didn’t go away after Shepley’s touchdown. The Ponies responded with a 63-yard touchdown run by Jackson Dunleap for a 14-7 lead.
Burnsville followed with its first sustained drive of the night, all on the ground, ending with a Olson’s 4-yard touchdown run. While the touchdown to Shepley was the only pass the Blaze attempted last Friday, it rushed for 204 yards on 39 attempts. Martens gained 122 yards on 16 carries and Olson had 63 yards on 18 carries.
After starting quarterback Andrew Hanson went down in midseason with an ankle injury and Harston replaced him, Burnsville dedicated itself to the run game even more.
“We still need to throw the ball at times, but with Jackson, Steph and Tre (Thomas), we’ve got three good backs, a big offensive line, and our program is built on running the football,” Krebs said.
Said Gilray: “We’re definitely much happier when we run the ball. That’s something I like to do, just move a guy against his will. I know I speak for the rest of the line when I say we’re much happier running.”
In addition to his touchdown pass, Harston made a big play on special teams when he broke through the line and blocked Mason Schwerzler’s punt in the fourth quarter. DeShawn Wallace recovered and returned it to the Stillwater 5-yard line. Two plays later Olson scored on a 4-yard run, giving Burnsville its first lead of the game with 7 minutes 55 seconds remaining.
“At halftime, we rallied the troops,” Gilray said. “We got the energy back. Obviously, the scoreboard means we did something right.”
Now the question becomes, can Burnsville keep doing it? A couple of times earlier this season Krebs pointedly criticized his team for lacking discipline, but in last week’s game he said the Blaze did a much better job of staying on task.
“There weren’t many penalties and we took care of the football,” Krebs said. “I told the team when you get in the playoffs the margin for error gets smaller and smaller. You need to continue to play that way if you’re going to win.”
East Metro White subdistrict teams were 4-4 in their playoff openers. In addition to Burnsville’s victory, Rosemount defeated White Bear Lake 28-21 and Lakeville North beat Shakopee 35-7 in the Class 6A bracket. Apple Valley defeated Hastings 28-21 in the Class 5A, Section 3 semifinals. Eagan, Eastview, Farmington and Lakeville South lost in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
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