ROCHESTER — With 40 seconds left on the clock, it appeared the “silver-lining” approach to the post-game interview would not be needed. But a 13-yard run from Julian Bretton set up a first and goal. Then, one the next play, with 21 seconds left, Pat Leary found the end zone.
Rochester Lourdes would add a two-point conversion and hold off Zumbrota-Mazeppa, 22-19, in both team's season opener.
“I'm not claiming moral victory here, we should have won that game,” said Z-M head coach Darin Raasch. “Lourdes is good and they deserve the win. But we learned a lot and we'll get better. I can't wait to see what we roll out with next Friday...They will put their nose to the grindstone and we'll get to work.”
The Cougars led 19-7 going into the fourth quarter, but the Eagles pulled out the perfect play at the best time when Leary hit Bretton for a 36-yard score. That was the first time Lourdes reached Z-M territory since the first quarter, when the Eagles opened the scoring with 4:18 left in the opening frame on a 1-yard plunge from Jake Groteboer.
But from then until the final 12 minutes, the Cougars bottled up Lourdes option attack.
Z-M got on the board in the second quarter when Jacob Bennett got loose around the left edge for a 24-yard score. That was followed up 35 seconds later with a 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Jacob Niebuhr made it 13-7.
The Cougars got the ball back twice more before half, punting once then capping off a five-play drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Caden Steffen to Robvon Jackson.
“We've got a lot of kids that can play. We ran some wishbone and we ran some spread. Offensively, we can throw multiple looks,” Raasch said. “We changed momentum with a defensive play and a special teams play. We have a lot of kids that can make plays in a lot of position on all three sides of the ball. We can feed off that.”
Then Lourdes found some comfort near the end of the third, ripping off seven runs, four of which were at least nine yards, over the next 3:54. That drive ended with the passing touchdown, and the two teams traded interceptions over the next two drives. Z-M then punted, and that ensuing possession was the final score.
“We told them to let this make us better. Lourdes is a heck of a football team,” Raasch said. “We got moved up to (Class) 3A, and I think we served notice that we can play football. We had some mistakes tonight that we feel let this one get away. I'm not taking anything away from Lourdes, they played a good game and good enough to win tonight. And we did not. But we see some things we can correct, and we will do that and be ready to play against Lewiston(-Altura) next Friday night.”
Steffen finished 5-of-12 for 105 yards, with Niebuhr totaling 56 yards on three catches. Bennett did the work on the ground, covering 53 yards on 11 carries. Steffen had 40 yards on 18 carries. Leary went for a game-high 181 yards on the ground, and finished with 75 yards on 7-of-11 passing.
Z-M will have time to iron things out, and it will have to with the upcoming schedule.
“(They) practice every day, too,” Raasch said. “To beat a team like Lourdes, or Lewiston next week, or Caledonia the week after, we have to be disciplined. I thought our guys did a good job with that. That quarterback comes around the edge, and we have guys go to the pitch man, staying disciplined, to give up three yards instead of a touchdown. That's discipline. We're not bad. We just have to get a little bit better.”