A game-opening 71-yard scoring drive — and a subsequent 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — had St. Paul thinking upset over Class C2’s second-ranked Norfolk Catholic on Friday night.
But when Knights coach Jeff Bellar decided the best path to victory was a power running attack, Norfolk Catholic took control of the line of scrimmage, the clock and the scoreboard en route to a 49-20 victory over the Wildcats.
With the win, the Knights improve to 2-1. But their veteran coach said his team still has plenty to improve on.
“They did a couple of nice things against us — they went unbalanced (in the line) and I don’t think we aligned very well,” Bellar said. “We hadn’t seen any of that on film. You kind of hope kids can pick it up on the go, but that got us out of position, so we’ve got a lot to do in that area.”
Bellar said he would describe the Knights’ level of play Friday as OK.
“We were a little off this week in practice — no excuses — but we practiced OK and that’s kind of how I thought we played,” he said. “Once we got going, we looked pretty good offensively, but defensively we’ve still got some work to do with tackling and some alignment things.”
Norfolk Catholic answered the Warriors’ initial scoring drive, which running back Tommy Wroblewski finished with a three-yard run, with a 12-play 67-yard possession of its own. It was all running plays with Dylan Kautz contributing 56 of those yards, including the three-yard touchdown that tied the score at seven.
But Eli Larson, Paul’s hard-running, 209-pound sophomore running back, Eli Larson, promptly returned the ensuing kick-off 97 yards for a touchdown that allowed the Warriors to lead 14-7 after the first quarter.
That’s when the Knights took control of the game.
With its defense forcing three St. Paul three-and-out drive-ending punts and ending another possession with an Evan Smith interception, Norfolk Catholic scored twice in the second period on short runs by Kautz to lead 21-14 at the half.
Meanwhile, the Warriors would add just 13 net yards to its first half offensive total to go into intermission with 39 rushing yards and 45 passing yards.
The Knights continued to feature the running game in the second half, with Kautz scoring twice (on 16- and 13-yard runs) and Smith adding another. That all came before St. Paul scored a final touchdown on Larson’s 30-yard gallop to end the third quarter with Norfolk Catholic leading 42-20.
“We really challenged our kids at halftime,” Bellar said. “It seemed like the other team had a lot more excitement about playing than we did early in the game. We told them we wanted to go out and get it going, and they really did a good job of that.”
Ryan Vetter’s 47-yard touchdown run on a flanker-counter play ended scoring in the Knights 49-20 win.
“We decided to run the ball; we’ve got a lot to do in our throwing game,” Bellar said. “We’re missing a little bit high, or maybe not catching it at times. I want to be able to throw the ball more effectively, and I need to work on what our quarterback is comfortable with doing. Until then, we’re going to lean heavily on running behind our big guys and getting the ball to our backs.”
Kautz, who ran for 108 first-half yards for the Knights on 19 carries, added another 51 in the second half on seven rushes — as well as his five touchdown runs. Smith contributed 94 yards on 11 attempts.
Quarterback Cayden Cunningham completed three of his 10 passing attempts, with Smith totaling 33 yards on two catches.
St. Paul (1-2) 14 0 6 0 — 20
Norfolk Catholic (2-1) 7 14 21 7 — 49
St. Paul: Tommy Wroblewski 3 run (Jackson Seward kick), 7:58.
NC: Dylan Kautz 3 run (Riley Carlson kick), 2:23.
St. Paul: Eli Larson 97 kick return (Seward kick), 2:04.
NC: Kautz 5 run (Carlson kick), 6:06.
NC: Kautz 3 run (Carlson kick), 2:22.
NC: Kautz 16 run (Carlson kick), 10:58.
NC: Evan Smith 2 run (Carlson kick), 7:04.
NC: Kautz 13 run (Carlson kick), 3:43.
St. Paul: Larson 30 run (run failed), :04.
NC: Ryan Vetter 47 run (Carlson kick), 10:56.