Class 5A state football: Chaska tops St. Thomas Academy in defensive battle for title

St. Thomas Academy senior defensive back Stephen Betts didn’t wait for the question to finish.

The answer was obvious.

Betts and his teammates on the Cadets defense made almost every stop in Saturday afternoon’s 10-7 loss to Chaska in the Class 5A state football championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Except …

“For the one we needed most,” Betts said, completing the sentence with a sigh.

Indeed, after allowing a field goal on the Hawks’ first possession of the game, STA held the Chaska offense in check.

That is, until the Hawks’ Stevo Klotz scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 42 seconds remaining, capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive in which the Cadets were called for three big defensive penalties – two for pass interference and one for targeting.

“It’s never been my place to pass judgement on the officials,” said STA coach Dan O’Brien, whose team finished 11-2 and as state runners-up for a second consecutive season.

“At the end of the day, we have to make the plays. They saw some things, and it’s their job to call it. Our job is to stop them from getting into the end zone. And we didn’t get that done.”

The Hawks did strike first, driving 59 yards in 11 plays on their opening possession to score on a 42-yard field goal by junior Nic Snuggerud — a kick that was 1 yard shy of the Prep Bowl record.

But after the Cadets managed to down a punt at the Hawks’ 3-yard-line late in the first quarter, Chaska struggled with field position.

St. Thomas Academy started its next drive at the Hawks’ 39 but ended up losing 7 yards and punting. On their next possession, however, the Cadets started at the Chaska 32 and got their offense in motion.

A 19-yard run by freshman Love Adebayo helped set up a 1-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Baker Reding. The extra point gave STA a 7-3 halftime lead. Cadets senior Ben Reppenhagen broke a Prep Bowl record that had been established the day before by averaging 48.4 yards per punt.

“Our defense kept putting us in spots to score,” said STA junior running back Danny McFadden, who carried the ball 18 times for 43 yards. “Ben was punting the ball really well and flipping the field. That made a big difference.”

The Cadets again had success moving the ball on their opening drive of the second half, taking 12 plays to advance as deep as the Chaska 12. They ran almost 7 1/2 minutes off the clock, but the Hawks eventually turned them over on downs.

“That was huge when it came to momentum,” said Chaska coach Bryan Dahl, whose team finished 12-1 and earned the first state title in program history.

“In a game like this, when we were struggling on offense, if they had managed to put the ball in the end zone there, it could have been a whole different story.”

Instead, the tale ended like this:

With 2:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Hawks got the ball back at their 20-yard line. A pair of pass interference calls, a targeting penalty and a 25-yard reception by Colden Dodds set up Klotz for the winning touchdown.

“All year, our coaches have been telling us to defend every inch,” said STA junior defensive lineman Garrison Solliday, who was a disruptive presence at the line of scrimmage all afternoon.

“We’ve tried not to let any team get those momentum-changing plays against us. And we did that today too until that last drive.”

Still, the Cadets held a Chaska team that entered play averaging 29 points per game (and had beaten STA 20-0 in the regular-season finale on Oct. 16) to just 10. And Betts and his teammates made it back to the state title game after losing key players to graduation.

“Losing in the state championship game never feels good,” said Betts, who finished Saturday’s game with eight tackles and two interceptions.

“But I feel so much pride in this team. People had low expectations for us at the beginning of the year. We lost a lot of key pieces. Nobody believed in us except our coaches and the guys in this locker room.

“And we went on to accomplish some really big things.”

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