HIgh school football: Stillwater defense saves the day, holds off White Bear Lake


			HIgh school football: Stillwater defense saves the day, holds off White Bear Lake
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In a contest with enough big plays to fill several games, it was Stillwater, ranked No. 4 in Class 6A, that outlasted White Bear Lake in a 35-28 homecoming thriller on Friday night at a packed Pony Stadium in Oak Park Heights.

The longtime Suburban East Conference rivals played to a relatively sleepy 14-7 score through two quarters before the game turned on its head in a wild and explosive third period where the teams went up and down the field, combining for 35 points and well over 300 yards of total offense.

But after surrendering 21 points and more than 200 yards through the air in the third quarter alone, it was the Stillwater defense that showed up when it mattered.

Clinging to a seven-point lead with under five minutes to play and the Bears facing a game-defining fourth-and-3 inside the Stillwater 10-yard line, the Ponies stiffened when they had to, swarming White Bear Lake playmaker Rayshaun Brakes and stopping him a yard shy of the sticks, forcing a turnover on downs.

“We gave up some big plays, but we made some big plays,” said Stillwater coach Beau LaBore. “We bent, a lot, but we held strong enough to find a way to finish.”

White Bear Lake wouldn’t see the ball again, as the Ponies converted a fourth-and-1 deep in it’s own territory, earning the right to line up in victory formation.

Stillwater quarterback Max Shikenjanski accounted for five touchdowns, including four through the air, but it was his quarterback sneak that covered just three yards that eventually closed out the win.

Shikenjanski connected on first-quarter touchdown passes of 12 and 46 yards to receivers Tanner Schmidt and Thomas Jacobs, giving the Ponies an early two-score lead.

White Bear answered with a 15-play drive that burned more than 10 minutes off the clock, capped by a 1-yard plunge by Chris Heim, pulling the Bears to within seven points at the break.

“It was a back and forth game, but we knew our defense was going to make a play,” Shikenjanski said.

After the teams traded interceptions to open the second half, Shikenjanski hit a wide open Joseph Hoheisel, capping a double reverse flea flicker – LaBore’s “Elmer special” – that doubled the Ponies’ advantage.

“That interception to (answer back) changed everything,” LaBore said. “That was a huge momentum shift for them, and we take it right back on the very next play.”

The teams traded touchdowns in rapid succession after that, with Brakes scoring on a 40-yard passing play and Shikenjowski finishing off a broken play with a 14-yard scamper. Heim added his second of the night from four yards out, and after a Pony punt, Gavin Knutson connected with Vatel Henderson on a 95-yard bomb down the right side line, converting a crucial third-and-19 and
tying the score with 1.6 seconds left in the third quarter.

“It was a heavyweight fight, a back-and-forth game,” said Bears coach Ryan Bartlett. “They made one more play there at the end than we did.”

Shikenjowski hit Schmidt from eight yards out midway through the final quarter before Stillwater’s defense held firm for the decisive fourth down stop.

“There were moments where we were a little bit on our heels and maybe not as confident,” LaBore said. “To have those moments, overcome them and come away with the victory, and now be able to teach and learn from them, it helps us get to where we want to go.”

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