A regular season high school football schedule is just eight games long. Those eight games leave little time to worry about style, and put much more of an emphasis on substance.
That’s a positive for the Magic football team.
Once again, they got it done with less than their best.
This time they did it on Homecoming, in front of a massive crowd and a rowdy student section.
The Magic overcame a handful of penalties and a few turnovers with big plays on both sides of the ball in holding the Big Lake Hornets off, 20-13, Friday night.
“Homecoming is probably the biggest game of the regular season for us,” said senior captain Kodi Schroeder. “This is a very big win.”
Early on, it looked like the Magic would cruise to their second Homecoming victory in three years.
The Hornets took the ball first and ate up more than seven minutes of clock as they drove the ball into the red zone. But they stalled there, as big defensive plays by the Magic kept them out of the end zone. When Monticello took over at the 19-yard line, they promptly put together a balanced drive down the field, capped by quarterback Jake Berthiaume plunging in from one yard out.
After getting a quick stop on the next drive, Monticello took the ball back with good field position, setting up at their own 40-yard line.
That was all the closer they needed to get for Jake Olson.
The bruising back took a handoff up the middle, ran right over two Hornet defenders, and found nothing but green grass after that. The senior went 60 yards to the end zone, putting Monticello up 13-0 just over a minute into the second quarter.
With the Magic getting out to their fastest start of the season, Coach Jason Telecky thought they might roll.
“You want to get out of the gates fast,” he said. “When we got out of the gates like that, I thought ‘Okay, here we go’.”
But the Hornets had other ideas. Big Lake, who entered the game 0-4, but had shown signs of potential throughout the first month, didn’t roll over.
After Monticello got a defensive stop, Big Lake answered with a stop of their own, picking off a pass in Monticello territory. The turnover set the Hornets up inside the 30-yard line. From there, they went to a little trickery. A reverse to star receiver Austin Poe brought Big Lake inside the five-yard line. Two plays later, they were in the end zone.
Only one problem, now they had to kick to Sam Johnson. The Hornets kicked it short, but it still bounced deep to Johnson. The All-State sprinter saw a gap and hit it hard. In a blur Johnson was gone, headed downfield for an 84-yard kickoff return for a TD, his second return touchdown of the year.
Big Lake did have one more answer for Monticello. They put together their own big kick return, combined with a personal foul penalty to get to the Magic 30. There they reached deeper into their bag of tricks, coming up with a 30-yard reverse pass to Poe for a touchdown. Andrew Manning blocked the extra point, keeping the score at 20-13. It would remain there, despite second half chances for both teams.
Big Lake likely had the better of the second half chances, taking over possession deep inside Monticello territory on a couple different possessions, but each time, the Magic defense held.
Brady Banyai, a senior cornerback, played a large role in the effort. Larger than was expected before the game.
Banyai was supposed to be the backside, run support corner for the game, while Matt Grathwohl went man-to-man with Poe on an island.
But when Grathwohl went down with an injury, Banyai got the chance to match up with the athletic receiver. It was a chance he had been waiting for.
“From the beginning of the game, I never really told anybody, but I wanted to be on Poe,” said Banyai, after the game.
He took advantage of the opportunity. Banyai shut down Poe at every turn, going high to break up fades and staying close on short routes, even pulling in one interception during the game. His work in taking away the Hornets best scoring option helped preserve the Magic win.
“He did a fantastic job,” said Telecky. “It’s a real testament to the kid.”
Late in the game, Big Lake put together one final threat. In the final minutes, they moved the ball into Magic territory. But facing pressure on a third down, the Hornet quarterback let a wobbly pass go toward the sideline and Aaron Wisecup was there to intercept it.
With the ball back in their hands, and just a couple minutes on the clock, the Magic needed just one first down to seal the game. Facing a 4th and 1 inside Big Lake territory, they were determined to get that first down, rather than send their defense back out.
“I didn’t think they could stop us,” said Telecky. “You have a 220-pound fullback, it’s your homecoming, go win it right now.”
Berthiaume turned, handed it to Olson, Olson plunged forward across the imaginary line, and the Magic were Homecoming kings.
It wasn’t perfect, and despite the pink uniforms, it wasn’t even always pretty. But it was another game that the Magic found a way to win.
“When we didn’t have the number of athletes that we have now, we lost games like this,” said Telecky. “It’s a great testament to how hard these kids have worked.”
Monticello hosts Rogers at 7 p.m. Friday.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org