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Woodbury football: Royals come back to earn season's first win

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An inspired fourth quarter buoyed by a multi-headed rushing attack propelled Woodbury to its first victory of the 2013 season.

The Royals evened their record at 1-1 Friday after beating Suburban East Conference foe White Bear Lake in a road match-up.

“This is a hard place to come in and win,” Woodbury head coach Andy Hill said after the game.

The win was his first over White Bear Lake since taking over the program in 2011, and a notable rebound from the Bears’ trouncing of the Royals in their 2012 homecoming game at Royals Stadium.

What’s more, Hill said the victory represents a key win in an especially challenging portion of the Royals’ schedule that began with Mounds View and continues next week with 2-0 East Ridge.

“It’s huge,” he said of the win. “We know the first three games on our schedule are incredibly tough.”

Woodbury got a monster game out of its backfield, led by junior running back Donnell Rodgers, who rushed for two first-half touchdowns. Fellow senior running back John McNiff rushed for one touchdown and passed for a score, when he connected with senior Landon Crossley.

All three seniors were featured separately or together in a single-wing offense that kept White Bear Lake defenders off balance through the direct-snap schemes.

Senior scatback Nick Yan also entered into the mix.

“They all have to be defended,” Hill said.

Things began looking bleak for Woodbury with about seven minutes left in the third quarter.

After a 25-yard Rodgers run that pushed the Royals deep into Bears territory, Woodbury failed to convert a fourth-and-four play and turned the ball over on downs.

White Bear Lake capitalized on the situation and scored on the ensuing drive, giving the Bears a 29-19 lead.

Woodbury climbed back in the fourth quarter, however, following a 35-yard McNiff run that put the Royals on the Bears’ 13 yard line. McNiff then took a direct snap and hit Crossley in the end zone to draw the game to a 29-25 score.

The game’s momentum hung in the balance on the next drive.

Woodbury forced White Bear Lake to punt, but the ball was given back to the Bears after a roughing-the-kicker penalty was called. The penalty returned the ball to the Bears, giving them a new set of downs.

“We needed a defensive stop,” Hill said.

The Royals got just that.

With 5:06 remaining in regulation, White Bear Lake attempted a pass on a third-and-long play that was intercepted by Woodbury senior defensive back Jake Schaffer.

“There’s a lot of momentum that comes with that,” Hill said.

The Royals made the Bears pay for the miscue – but not without a little drama of its own.

After taking over the ball, Woodbury found itself in a fourth-and-two scenario with three minutes left. That’s when Crossley broke free on a direct snap and sprinted to the end-zone for a 44-yard score.

Senior linebacker Nick Yochum helped seal the win with a quarterback sack inside the final two minutes.

“It was great to come back,” McNiff said after the game. “It was just an all-around win and we did it as a team.”

Hill said key plays demonstrated the difference between Friday’s victory in White Bear Lake and the previous week’s home loss to Mounds View: execution.

“The difference was, I think that our kids were focused,” he said. “Execution is the result of focus.”

The Royals will need to maintain that focus if they are to find success against next week’s opponent – East Ridge. The undefeated Raptors return to Royals Stadium for the first time since they lost in a 2011 overtime thriller.

But this year’s East Ridge team is much different than the 2011 squad, Hill said.

“They’re the best team I’ve seen in a while,” he said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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