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East Ridge football team holds on, beats rival Park 41-17

Nick Leach added to his Suburban East Conference-leading rushing total with 142 yards on 23 carries in a 41-17 win over Park on Friday.

Despite three touchdown connections between Seth Green and Xavier Cole and an early 14-0 deficit, Park hung with intra-district and Suburban East Conference rival East Ridge into the fourth quarter on Friday, until the Raptors were able to pull away, earning a 41-17 win at East Ridge High School.

"The kids have been looking forward to this game," East Ridge head coach Mike Pendino said. "They play for the trophy. We have a lot of kids that grew up in Cottage Grove and they know the kids there. It's not as big of a rival as Woodbury, but the kids take it pretty personal."

With just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Park was down just 11 points and had the ball deep in East Ridge territory - when sophomore defensive back Sam Cobbs made the play of the game for the Raptors, intercepting Park quarterback Sam Domeier's pass at the 5-yard line to squash the Wolfpack's threat.

Seven plays later, Green - East Ridge's freshman quarterback - hit Cole, a junior receiver, with a 32-yard slant pass for a touchdown - their third touchdown combination of the night - making it a 35-17 game with 4:36 left on the clock and dashing Park's hopes of an upset.

"That was a big interception," Pendino said. "We got some pressure on (Domeier). He knows the situation and he's trying to make a play - it's the fourth quarter - he tried to make a play and Cobbs made a better play."

With a majority of its starters on the sideline, East Ridge (4-3; 4-3 SEC) tacked on another touchdown as junior quarterback Stephen Orehosky scored on a 1-yard run to make it a 41-17 game with 2:34 left to play.

It was the third-straight win by East Ridge over Park (1-6; 1-6 SEC). Last year, the Raptors earned an emotional 20-14 win over Park, just hours after the passing of East Ridge student Braedon Hyland.

"I felt like it was a closer game than what the scoreboard indicates," Park second-year head coach Darin Glazier said. "I felt like our kids came to play and played hard. We are the few and the proud right now. We're beat up, but the kids keep battling. That's all we can ask from them."

Pendino said he always expects a good battle when his team faces Park.

"You look at Army and Navy, that's why their 52-49 or whatever they are," he said. "With rivalry games, everything gets thrown out the window. But, I give our kids a lot of credit and I give Park a lot of credit. They played hard."

In this year's win, Green led the way for East Ridge, completing 10 passes for 189 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Cole was his main target, catching four passes for 98 yards and three touchdowns. East Ridge junior running back Nick Leach added to his Suburban East Conference-leading rushing total with 142 yards on 23 carries.

With senior running back Dylan Smallidge sidelined for a third-straight game with a knee injury, Domeier led the charge for Park. The junior had both of Park's touchdowns in the game - on runs of 1 yard and 58 yards - completed 10 passes for 92 yards and had nine carries for 102 yards. Smallidge, who led the SEC in rushing prior to his injury, is probably out for the season, but won't need surgery and will likely be able to compete in track this spring.

It was Park's sixth-straight loss after winning the season-opener over Forest Lake. However Glazier said he likes his team's mentality and approach despite the losses.

"We just talk about keeping a positive attitude and a belief that we can make things happen," he said. "That's the difference between this year and last year. I don't know if we're a better team this year, especially with Dylan out, but their attitude is much better. We're not hanging our heads or quitting."

East Ridge looked dominant early.

After holding Park to a 3-and-out on the Wolfpack's first possession, East Ridge put together a 12-play drive, spanning over five minutes, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by junior running back Austin Kamrath to put the Raptors up 7-0 following the extra point by kicker Alec Tostenrud.

East Ridge then forced Park to punt again after just three plays - and was in the end zone again just eight plays later. Green hit Cole with a 13-yard pass and the junior receiver spun out of two tackles and into the end zone to give East Ridge a 14-0 lead with 1:18 remaining in the first quarter.

Park, which totaled only three yards of offense in the first quarter, made its move in the second quarter, however.

The Wolfpack put together a 23 play drive that lasted over seven minutes, capped by Domeier's first touchdown of the game - a one-yarder, to cut the Wolfpack's deficit to 14-7 after the extra point by Park kicker Matt Goecke.

Park was aided by East Ridge penalties on the drive. Three times the Raptors gave Park first downs with penalties on the drive, allowing the Wolfpack to stay alive.

"Our goal is to just keep the chains moving," Glazier said. "I thought they did a nice job of that tonight. We found some things that worked. I'm real proud of these guys and the work that they did. We just don't quite have that explosiveness that we had with Dylan back there."

On East Ridge's next drive, Park forced a fumble by Leach and recovered the ball on the Raptors' 23-yard line. However, on the Wolfpack's first play following the turnover, East Ridge got the ball back. East Ridge junior Matt Davis picked off a Domeier pass as the Raptors' Ryan Yoshida was bearing down on Park's quarterback.

On the very next play, East Ridge made Park pay.

Kamrath delivered his second touchdown of the game - a 13-yard run - to make it 21-7 with 2:34 remaining in the first half.

Following the Raptors' score, the Wolfpack built a nine-play drive down to East Ridge's 20-yard line, before their drive stalled. However, Goecke hit a 37-yard field goal to make it a 21-10 game at the half.

East Ridge struck quickly in the second half.

It took just six plays before Green found Cole again with a 27-yard touchdown pass to make it a 28-10 game with 9:55 remaining in the third quarter.

Park wouldn't go away though.

On third-and-12, Domeier found a seam in the East Ridge defense, then sprinted down the Raptors' sideline for a 58-yard touchdown to make it a 28-17 game with 6:46 remaining in the third quarter.

But, that's as close as the game would get.

For both teams, the regular season comes to a close on Wednesday, Oct. 17. Park is at No. 6 Mounds View and East Ridge travels to White Bear Lake for the finale.

"Big game for us," Pendino said. "That's the defining game of our season. We're going to be playing a good football team. But, we want to be 5-3."

The teams then start the playoffs, which begin on Tuesday, Oct. 23. East Ridge is in Class 5A, where it will likely earn a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in Section 5. Park is in the new Class 6A, where it will likely face No. 1 seed and eighth-ranked Lakeville North in the Section 3 opener.

"The few seniors we got, they have to realize this is the last couple games that they're going to be playing," Glazier said. "They need to appreciate the fact they get to play the game and enjoy the ride. It's not all about the W's. It means a lot to the kids, but they should be proud of the things they've done. We have some battles here at the end, but they'll be better for it."