By Matt Funderburk ’21
The Mound Westonka High School football team finished off the regular season with an exciting and much-needed 37-34 win over the St. Paul Central Minutemen on Oct. 18.
After coming off a rough 48-23 road loss against No. 1-ranked Class 3A St. Croix Lutheran on Oct. 13, this game was a must-win for the White Hawks if they wanted positive momentum going into the postseason. With it being a Wednesday night game, the team only had Monday and Tuesday to practice for the season finale. “There was not a lot of time to install new plays or schemes, so we focused on cleaning up mistakes in all three phases,” said head coach Nick David.
The White Hawks got off to a poor start, as junior wide receiver Sam Dufault fumbled the opening kickoff and the Minutemen recovered. A few plays later, the Minutemen scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown to give them a 7-0 lead. The White Hawks got on the board late in the first quarter when senior kicker Jonathan Neve booted a 29-yard field goal to cut the White Hawks’ deficit to 7-3.
The White Hawks offense came to life in the second quarter. Senior running back Bobby Sweet scored a 4-yard rushing touchdown, and the White Hawks went ahead 9-7 after a failed 2-point conversion attempt. Later in the second quarter, White Hawks junior linebacker Kris Kurtz intercepted a Minutemen pass and returned it 25 yards into Minutemen territory. A few plays later, junior quarterback Brandon Hokkanen found senior wide receiver Evan Dahl for a 22-yard touchdown pass to put the White Hawks up 16-7.
Hokkanen found Dahl again in the second quarter for a 25-yard touchdown pass to increase the White Hawks’ lead to 23-7. Dahl finished the night with nine catches, 131 receiving yards and two touchdowns and recorded an interception on defense in another great performance. The Minutemen scored late in the second quarter on a 55-yard touchdown pass with a successful 2-point conversion. The score was 23-15 at the half.
On the first play of the third quarter, the St. Paul Central returned the kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown. The White Hawks’ lead diminished to 23-21 after a failed 2-point conversion attempt by the Minutemen. Dufault made up for that early kickoff fumble, hauling in a 66-yard touchdown pass to bring the score to 30-21 in favor the White Hawks. But St. Paul Central turned up its running game, and the Minutemen scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown and an 11-yard rushing touchdown to make the score 34-30 at the end of the third quarter.
A bright spot in the third quarter was an exciting fake punt play by the White Hawks. “We were sitting at fourth down with 7 minutes to go for a first down in the third quarter, when we didn’t have really any momentum,” said David. “We noticed on film when scouting Central that they liked to bring a lot of pressure to try and block punts, so we figured this would be as good of week as any for trying a fake.” The gamble paid off. Neve threw a nice pass to junior Zach Simmons for 18 yards and a first down. “The play helped get a little bit of the momentum back from Central,” said David.
After both teams exchanged drives in the fourth quarter, the White Hawks got the ball back with just under a minute to go in the game. With only 40 seconds left and the White Hawks facing third-and-7 with playoff implications on the line, Hokkanen found Sweet for a 43-yard touchdown pass. The White Hawks won a thriller 34-30 after stopping the Minutemen one more time on defense.
Hokkanen saved his best for last, finishing the night with 286 passing yards and four touchdowns in his stellar performance. Sweet also had great night, finishing with 94 total yards and two touchdowns. “What a finish,” said coach David after the game. “I was very pleased with the way that we finished the game and kept fighting all the way until the very end.”
“Once again, our resiliency was crucial in helping us pull out the win,” David added.
With the win, the White Hawks not only finished the season with a solid 7-1 record, they also clinched a home playoff game for Tuesday, Oct. 24, against the Richfield Spartans. Back in 2015, the White Hawks lost a heartbreaker to Richfield in the playoffs by a score of 23-22 in overtime. Richfield, who plays a very tough schedule is currently 0-8 on the season.
David said that his team feels more prepared to win close battles in the playoffs this season due to their tougher schedule and the fact that they have been in some close games this season.
The White Hawks host Richfield in the Section 5AAAA playoffs at Haddorff Field at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24. Please come and cheer loud for your Mound Westonka White Hawks!
Photos by Dennis Hoogeveen
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