The Holy Angels football team, coming off a season in which it posted a sub-.500 record, is currently viewed as a state tournament threat in Class 4A.
The first Associated Press rankings have the Stars ranked as the eighth-best team in Class 4A, but, with three games scheduled against top-10 teams, Holy Angels has the potential to quickly climb up the rankings.
After a win to kick off the year, Holy Angels played South St. Paul, Associated Press’ third-ranked team in Class 4A, Sept. 8. The Stars ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns and the Stars’ defense held its opponent under 10 points for the second consecutive week as Holy Angels earned an 18-7 victory.
“Just knowing how well-coached South St. Paul is, I can’t compliment their staff enough,” Holy Angels head football coach Jim Gunderson said. “They’re really well-coached and they have lost just three games in three years, so they’re the measuring stick in [Class] 4A, and it has been that way for five to seven years, and our boys knew that.
“When you’re stacking yourself against such a good program, you can’t help but gain confidence.”
The Stars knew their game against South St. Paul might be one of the hardest, if not the most difficult, game on the schedule this season, but Gunderson credits his team’s preparation, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, for the victory.
“We challenged them all week and warned them it was going to be a game in the trenches, so we put the ownership on the offensive and defensive lines,” Gunderson said. “Our d-line played hard, they were the difference-makers and our offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage.”
While Holy Angels has deployed a run-first option attack on offense over the last couple of years, Gunderson said his offensive line helped open up possibilities in the passing game.
“The offensive line improved on its pass protection and that has opened up some things for our weapons,” Gunderson said. “Keontay [Shorter] and Peter Laird were catching short bubble screens and Ryan Mazurek was a threat where they put two guys on him every time we passed.”
While Mazurek was held to one catch for eight yards, he served as a decoy down field, as he drew multiple defenders throughout most of the game.
“He’s our top receiving threat, he really committed in the offseason and got himself stronger and faster,” Gunderson said. “He had a couple jump balls he almost came home with in double-coverage or single blanket coverage.
“He has become such a threat teams have to respect him and put an extra guy on him. Anytime we did play action, their linebacker had to run to cover him and know where he was on the field.”
Holy Angels kicked off the scoring on a 7-yard run by running back Jack Anderson, who teams have been trying to take out of the game through the first two weeks of the season. South St. Paul took a 7-6 lead in the third quarter, but quarterback Joe Heimbold scored on a 29-yard touchdown run to begin the fourth-quarter, and Anderson added a 1-yard scamper to round out the scoring and send the Stars home as winners.
Heimbold led the Stars with 121 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Anderson added 77 yards and two touchdowns.
“Teams are committing to take away Jack, and Joe has been making the right reads to get us in the right play,” Gunderson said. “He has distributed the ball to who he needs to, he has been quarterbacking the team and distributing the ball, as well as running it himself.
“He has been very patient and has picked up a lot of key first downs.”
Shorter led the Stars with seven catches for 36 yards, while also recording an interception on defense. Jason Miller led the Stars with 12 tackles, while Anderson and Rook Rowe added eight tackles apiece.
Holy Angels will play next against St. Louis Park at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at St. Louis Park High School.
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