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Football: East Ridge inexperience shows in first game

East Ridge defenders Corey Phung (9) and Joey Arndt (1) chase Champlin Park quarterback Joey Faulds during the first half of the Thursday, Aug. 31 game at ERHS. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
East Ridge’s T.J. Kelly runs to escape the pressure of two Champlin Park defenders during the season opener on Thursday, Aug. 31. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

When a large class of talented seniors graduates, high school football teams do not always know what a new group of incoming players will bring the following fall.

During East Ridge's season opener on Thursday, Aug. 31, the Raptors showed some of those signs of inexperience in a 34-13 loss to Champlin Park. Three turnovers inside Rebels territory stalled offensive drives, and other mistakes helped widen the margin.

"They are really good, and we're young, but we moved the ball," head coach Dan Fritze said about the offense. "We turned the ball over three times going in to score."

Both teams started slowly as Champlin Park went into halftime with a 7-0 lead. But the Rebels turned it on in the second half, scoring 14 points in the third quarter to jump out to a 21-0 lead. Ernest Worjloh led with four total touchdowns, starting with a seven-yard screen pass in the first half. He added three more touchdown runs in the second half, including one of 54 yards in the fourth quarter.

East Ridge's season ended last fall with a 35-33 loss to Champlin Park during the Class 6A tournament last season on Oct. 28. The Raptors nearly pulled off a 21-point comeback in the game but missed a two-point conversion as time expired. More than 20 seniors graduated from that team, including kicker Grant Ryerse and running back Dominik London who are now at the University of Minnesota.

Although they were the same two teams on the same field Thursday, the rosters were very different.

"It's always a different team because you lose the seniors each year," East Ridge senior Jaron Pittman said. "But they're a good team, props to them for showing up."

T.J. Kelly helped East Ridge pick up yards as a running back and taking snaps out of the wildcat formation on Thursday. Although Kelly played only safety last season for the Raptors, the coaching staff knew the then junior could have filled in at running back.

"We knew he could do it, and we had him ready last year just in case," Fritze said about Kelly. "But he's so dynamic."

Pittman scored the first touchdown of the game for East Ridge on a three-yard run in the fourth quarter, and quarterback Riley Tuckner also scrambled for a two-yard touchdown.

With so much inexperience on the roster, the Raptors plan to continue working on finding their identity on both offense and defense to start the season. This process will continue in week two when the Raptors head to Stillwater for a game Friday, Sept. 8.

"We've had Dominik London carrying the ball for how many years, and we need different guys to step up and carry the load now," Fritze said.