SHERBURN - New Ulm Cathedral's ground game proved a dozen points better than Martin County West's air attack during Friday night's football season-opener in Sherburn.
Running back Bryan Kokesch and fullback Austin Cooper combined for 283 rushing yards and all four Greyhound touchdowns to pace a 30-18 Southern Minnesota Conference victory over the hometown Mavericks.
"They're a pair of physical backs playing behind a big strong (offensive) line," Martin County West mentor T.J. Schmidtke said in reference to Kokesch and Cooper. "I thought Brandon (Williamson) did a nice job in his first varsity start at quarterback for us, throwing for 187 yards and three touchdowns.
OPTION?KEEPER — Martin County West quarterback Brandon Williamson (11) runs the option keeper behind fullback Brock Burmeister (44) as offensive lineman Dalton Koenecke (70) blocks New Ulm Cathedral middle linebacker Brandon Beranek (third from left) during season-opening Southern Minnesota Conference football action Friday night in Sherburn. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"Now we have to work on improving our running game and eliminating penalties (12 for 114 yards), and I know we'll get better as the season progresses."
Ironically, both the Greyhounds and the Mavericks made huge strides, combining for 48 second-half points after battling to a scoreless tie at intermission.
After a 25-yard loss via a high snap over the MCW punter's head, Cathedral seemed almost destined to cross the goal line by regaining possession at the Mavericks' 17-yard line with 5:15 remaining before halftime.
MCW defensive lineman Aaron Anderson's quarterback sack pushed Cathedral back to the 20 on third down before signal-caller Collin Helget lofted a perfect fade to Tyler Franta for what appeared to be the first TD with 3:06 left in the second period.
The officiating crew, which sent flags flying to the tune of 19 total infractions for a combined 167 yards, however, ruled that Franta landed just out-of-bounds to erase the six Greyhound points off the scoreboard.
Maverick defensive lineman Jacob Sinn's fumble recovery at his own 46 with 1:16 remaining in the opening half allowed the blue-and-black attack to attempt an NFL-distance 39-yard Anders Fuller field goal kick that fell just short of the goal posts.
A rejuvenated Cathedral ground game to open the third quarter engineered three consecutive point-producing series en route to building a 22-6 lead.
Cooper, who finished with 116 yards on 20 totes, hammered up the middle from 14 yards out for the first of his two TDs to cap the Greyhounds' six-play, 58-yard scoring drive at the 9:25 juncture.
Fullback Brock Burmeister and Williamson paced the Mavericks' answering drive by grinding out real estate via the option run before the left-handed Williamson zipped a 22-yard spiral to Parker Leiding for six points. Linebacker Brandon Beranek tipped the 2-point pass to keep Cathedral ahead 8-6 with 6:02 left in the third.
A pass interference penalty against MCW, combined with Kokesch's 49-yard gallop around left end, set up Kokesch's 2-yard TD sweep toss. Cooper then dove over the goal line on another end pitch for a 16-6 lead with 3:15 remaining in the third.
Beranek and the Greyhound defense stiffened to force a punt before Cooper and Kokesch took turns churning out chunks of real estate to pace an 11-play, 73-yard scoring march. Cooper hammered into the end zone on a 4-yard run to extend the Cathedral margin to 22-6 with 8:51 left in the game.
Williamson, however, did not throw in the proverbial towel as the 6-foot-4 junior quarterback hit Wesley Cook in stride along the right hash marks for a 66-yard TD strike only 20 seconds later.
After forcing a Cathedral punt, Williamson connected with Tanner Lange, two more times to Cook, and another to Leiding to set up a 20-yard catch, juke and score play from Sam Baker to slice the Mavericks' deficit to 22-18 with only 3:49 remaining.
MCW's ensuing onside kick did not go the required 10 yards, allowing Cathedral to regain possession at midfield. Kokesch took Helget's toss around the right end, broke a tackle and reached the end zone on a 48-yard sprint to re-establish a double-digit lead at 38-18. Franta then caught the only official pass that Helget completed on the game for the 2-point conversion and final 12-point margin of victory.
Greyhound defensive back Alex Guggisberg intercepted a Williamson pass and returned the pick 35 yards to the Mavericks' 30 to seal the win with time winding down.
Williamson topped the Maverick ground game with 52 yards on nine carries, while Kokesch pounded out a game-high 167 yards on 17 carries.
Cook led the MCW receiving charts with four grabs for 87 yards and a TD, while Lange supplied three receptions for 35 yards.
Martin County West (0-1, 0-1 Southern Minnesota) plays host to Cedar Mountain/Comfrey at 7 p.m. next Friday night in Sherburn.
New Ulm Cathedral (1-0, 1-0) travels to Lamberton next Friday night to face Red Rock Central.
NUC 0 0 16 14 - 30
MCW 0 0 6 12 - 18
NUC - Austin Cooper 14 run (Collin Helget run), 9:25.
MCW - Parker Leiding 22 pass from Brandon Williamson (pass failed), 6:02.
NUC - Bryan Kokesch 2 run (Cooper run), 3:15.
NUC - Cooper 4 run (kick failed), 8:51.
MCW - Wesley Cook 66 pass from Williamson (bad snap), 8:31.
MCW - Sam Baker 20 pass from Williamson (kick blocked), 3:49.
NUC - Kokesch 48 run (Tyler Franta pass from Helget), 3:06.
First downs: MCW 11; NUC 17. Rushing: MCW 29-87; NUC 55-351. Passing: MCW 12-24-1-187; NUC 0-6-0-0. Fumbles-lost: MCW 1-0; NUC 1-1. Penalties: MCW 12-114; NUC 7-53.
Offense: Rushing: Kokesch (NUC) 17-167, Cooper (NUC) 20-116; Williamson (MCW) 9-52. Passing: Williamson (MCW) 12-24-1-187; Helget (NUC) 0-6-0-0. Receiving: MCW: Cook 4-87, Tanner Lange 3-35, Leiding 2-29, Baker 1-20, Richard Eckmann 1-10, Jacob Buntjer 1-6.
Defense: Interception: Alex Guggisberg (NUC). Fumble recovery: Jacob Sinn (MCW).