Growing pains can be a real thing.
The young Faribault Falcons (0-3) led for much of the first half and were knotted with the visiting Byron Bears (2-1) at halftime, but the Bears mauled in the second half of a 41-19 Mid Southeast Blue win.
“We played a pretty good first half,” assessed Faribault coach Ned Louis. “Second half, it showed high school football can be a big momentum game. They took the momentum.”
Faribault got off to a promising start at Bruce Smith Field, taking the opening drive 80 yards in 14 plays across 6 minutes, 41 seconds. Alex Gardner rushed for a 22-yard touchdown and Sam LaCanne converted the extra point.
Nick Ehlers played a full game at quarterback for the first time this season. He only needed to pass twice on the drive, but his one completion was a big one.
Receiver Carter Breitenfeldt returned from injury this week and made an instant impact on a 10-yard reception on third-and-10 to reach the Bears’ 46-yard line.
Otherwise, it was the offensive line making holes for the duo of Gardner and Taylor Day.
Gardner rushed seven times for 51 yards on the drive and Day four for 18.
“We got the ground game going,” Louis said of what led to the strong start on offense. “But then they started to crowd the line. I thought we had some opportunities in the passing game, but we just couldn’t get anything going.”
The Faribault defense allowed a first down on Byron’s drive starting at its 25 but stiffened after to force a punt.
Byron quickly got the ball back after a Faribault three-and-out.
Key plays to end each of the first two quarters helped the Bears swing the momentum.
In the first, it was talented running back Austin Freerksen who scampered 27 yards on the opening play of the drive. He finished with 152 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries (8.4 ypc).
Louis said tackling is one area where the Falcons need to improve.
That put the Bears into plus territory where they struck two players later on a 31-yard pass from Andrew Scheuer to Benjamin Stienessen. The extra point was good to tie the game at 7 with 11:03 until halftime.
Faribault punted again and Byron regained possession at its 36. Six players later, Freerksen rushed in on second down from the 7 to put Byron up 13-7 with a missed extra point.
Needing an answer, the Falcons drove 75 yards in nine plays over 3:21.
Day rushed in for a four-yard score. Gardner had an 18-yard rush on the drive and the Ehlers/Breitenfeldt connection was good for passes of 15 and seven yards. The extra point was no good.
Faribault had forced one turnover on the season until Byron coughed it up on the first play of the ensuing frive. Gael Ramirez recovered.
An intentional grounding call against the Falcons forced a second-and-31 from the Byron 49. Gardner gained back five yards rushing and Ehlers found Nick Flom for 20.
With 1:35 on the clock and facing fourth-and-6 from the 24, Faribault called timeout.
Offensive coordinator Shane Gunderson dialed up a pass play which resulted in tight end Dylan Lippert hauling in an 11-yard first down catch.
Breitenfeld caught an 11-yard ball to push the Falcons to the 2 with 34 seconds left. They burned their final timeout of the half.
A loss of three yards on a Day rush was followed by a spike. An incomplete pass and a sack sent Byron into halftime on the uptick tied at 13.
Byron received the ball to open the second half and took the kick to its 41. Chunks of seven, five, 34 and 13 yards made up the quick drive ending in a 13-yard touchdown catch by Noah Schmitz.
Isaac Mata was a bright spot for Faribault on special teams. He jetted upfield to return the ensuing kickoff 29 yards to midfield.
The Falcons fumbled it away on the first play of the drive. Two plays later, the Bears showed their quick strike ability on a 35-yard pass to Stienessen.
Scheuer finished 13-for-15 passing for 161 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Ehlers was 7-for-18 with 94 yards and no touchdowns nor intereceptions.
Byron held Faribault without a first down the rest of the quarter and led 27-13 heading to the final 12 minutes.
The Bears drove down to the Faribault 1 late in the third. A loss of eight on a tackle by Elijah Hammonds and a six-yard tackle for loss by Ehlers forced a third-and-15 to open the fourth.
Scheuer found his favorite target Stienessen for a 15-yard strike for a dagger of a touchdown.
Stienessen had six catches for 91 yards and three touchdowns.
Byron scored again early in the quarter on its first play of the drive on a 39-yard Freerksen run.
The Falcons avoided a second-half shutout by driving 59 yards in 4:38.
Cael Casteel ran three times for 19 yards, Day had an 11-yard rush and Elijah Hammonds had three carries for 19 yards including a three-yard score. The extra point was no good.
Faribault is back on the road 7 p.m. Friday at Albert Lea (1-2). The Tigers are coming off a 49-20 home loss to Rochester Mayo (3-0).
“They won’t quit,” Louis said of his team. “They’ll come in Monday ready to work.”
Byron 41, Faribault 19
B — 0 13 14 14
F — 7 6 0 6
Faribault offensive statistics — Passing: Nick Ehlers 7-18, 94 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT … Rushing: Alex Gardner 15-108, TD; Taylor Day 11-32, TD; Cael Casteel 3-19; Elijah Hammonds 5-10, TD; Nick Ehlers 3-7 … Receiving: Carter Breitenfeldt 4-43; Nick Flom 2-40; Dylan Lippert 1-11
Faribault defensive statistics — Tackles: Ehlers 5.5; Lippert 5; Jake Flom 4.5; Bryce Nolen 3; Gael Ramirez, Evan Larson, Evan Langer 2.5; Hammonds, AJ Worrell 2; Isaac Mata 1.5; Day, Sam LaCanne, Thor Keilen, Cade McCusker, Hunter Nelson, Owen Ellendson, Taylor Yochum 1; Zack Slinger, Timothy Neirby, N. Flom, Joe Langer, Breitenfeldt, Matthias Lenway .5 … Tackles for loss: Ehlers 3.5; Ramirez, Hammonds 1; Larson, J. Langer, Lenway .5
Faribault special teams — Kicking: LaCanne 0-0 FG, 1-3 XP … Punting: Nolen 4-133 … Kick return: Mata 4-63; Day 1-6; Gardner 1-0
Byron offensive statistics — Andrew Scheuer 13-15, 161 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT; Travis Underwood 1-2, 8 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT … Rushing: Austin Freerksen 18-152, 2 TD; Miles Smith 6-13; Scheuer 3-(-12) … Receiving: Benjamin Stienessen 6-91, 3 TD; Jacob Braaten 4-30; Freerksen 1-22; Noah Schmitz 2-18; Matthew Miller 1-8
Byron defensive statistics — Tackles: Ryan Hough 6.5; Braaten 5; Sam Connelly 4.5; Stienessen 3.5; Freerksen 3; Dylan Olive, Underwood, Schmitz 2.5; Carter Wilde, Wyatt Nemechek 2; Miller, Frank Swartzentruber 1.5; Vicente DeLeon, Curt Stemper, Smith, Miller 1; Easton Hulke, Trenten DeCook, Seaberg, Underwood, Brandon Mauskemo, Isaiah Crossfield .5
Team statistics — Total offense: B 322, F 268 … Total plays: F 58, B 44 … Time of possession: F 26:13, B 21:47 … Rushing: F 40-174, B 27-153 … Passing: B 169, F 94 … Turnovers: B 1, F 1 … First downs: F 16, B 16 … Third down: F 5-13, B 2-8 … Fourth quarter: B 2-4, F 2-4 … Penalties: F 4-40, B 3-20