The Raptors answered the critics in their home opener on Thursday night in Woodbury.
Led by an impressive rushing performance and a staunch defense, East Ridge started the season with a 48-15 win over White Bear Lake at the Raptors Nest.
“It always feels good to win,” East Ridge fourth-year head coach Mike Pendino said. “It’s 48-15, but there are a lot of things we need to do better. Until we beat Mounds View, Cretin or Stillwater, we’re not there yet.”
White Bear Lake had no answer for East Ridge senior running back Nick Leach in the game. Leach, who led the Suburban East Conference in rushing last season, picked up where he left off, running for 223 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries – roughly 15 yards per carry.
“I feel good about my game, but I owe it all to my line and my fullback,” said the 6-foot, 2-inch, 205 pound Leach. “Austin (Kamrath) played a great game. He should get the notice for that game.”
White Bear Lake beat the Raptors 42-7 in last year’s regular season finale. Leach said the Raptors wanted to avenge that loss.
“Every team wants to make a statement coming out of the gates,” Leach said. “We were a little nervous. You could tell tensions were high, but we came through and showed what we are all about tonight.”
East Ridge ran for over 300 yards in the win.
In addition to Leach, Kamrath had five rushes for 28 yards and two touchdowns and sophomore quarterback Seth Green was 6-for-10 passing for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
Pendino credited the Raptors’ offensive line and tight end George Behr for owning the line of scrimmage throughout the game.
“You have to give a lot of credit to those six guys up front – all of them,” Pendino said. “They all take pride in blocking and they made Leach look like an All-American tonight. We’ll hang our hat on those big guys. We have enough weapons to throw when we need to throw it though. We have really good receivers, a great tight end and an outstanding quarterback.”
As outstanding as East Ridge’s offense looked, the Raptors’ defense was nearly as good.
After a sketchy first quarter, East Ridge’s defense buckled down, holding the Bears to zero points over the final three quarters.
“I thought we played great except for the first quarter,” said East Ridge senior linebacker Matt Davis, a team captain. “We made some mistakes there, but we’ll look at the tape and get better. I think we’re pretty good.”
White Bear Lake opened the game with a no-huddle offense and had the Raptors off-balance early.
“We had problems with the no-huddle right away,” Pendino said. “We couldn’t match the speed of that in practice. We weren’t very organized in our substitutions. That was my fault. But, after that first quarter we played well. I thought the defense really played hard. For the new scheme we’re running they did a heck of a job.”
East Ridge didn’t start the first half very well, but ended it strong.
White Bear Lake scored first in the game when junior quarterback Trey Anderson found junior receiver Andy Lockwood for a three-yard touchdown. After a two-point conversion by senior Jake Hill, White Bear Lake went ahead 8-0 with 8:12 remaining in the first quarter.
East Ridge struck back, however. After forcing White Bear Lake to punt on its second possession of the game, the Raptors used the big play to get on the scoreboard for the first time this year.
East Ridge sophomore quarterback Seth Green connected with sophomore receiver Kjetil Cline down the middle for a 58-yard catch-and-run for the touchdown. After the extra point by freshman Grant Ryerse was good, it was an 8-7 game.
White Bear Lake then went ahead 15-7 with a big play of its own.
Anderson found a wide open Jake Olson down the sidelines for a 63-yard touchdown with 2:55 remaining in the first quarter. That’s the last time White Bear Lake would score in the game, however .
“We weren’t in a flow that first quarter, but after that we got in a rhythm and knew what we had to do,” Davis said.
Leach ripped off a 69-yard run to start East Ridge’s next possession, moving the Raptors down to the Bears’ 11-yard line. After a six-yard run by Kamrath, Leach punched in a five-yard touchdown run that cut the deficit to 15-14 after the extra point by Ryerse.
After a three-and-out by White Bear Lake, Leach and the Raptors went back to work.
East Ridge put together a six-play drive, capped by a 9-yard touchdown by Kamrath to take its first lead of the game, 21-15 after the extra point, with 10:05 remaining in the first half.
Up 21-15 at the half, East Ridge received the ball to begin the second half and put together a deflating drive that ended with the Raptors ahead by two touchdowns.
Starting at its own 18 yard-line, East Ridge ran six running plays and marched down the field into the end zone to go ahead 28-15. Kamrath capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Leach had runs of 20, 29 and 18 yards on the drive.
White Bear Lake fumbled on its next possession, giving the Raptors the ball on the Bears’ 25 yard-line. Three plays later Leach scampered into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown run, putting East Ridge up 34-15 – and the rout was on. Davis recovered the fumble for the Raptors.
“We knew we had the ball to start the second half,” Pendino said. “We knew if we could play some smash-mouth football and put it in the end zone, maybe we could deflate them a little bit.”
Next week, East Ridge travels to Roseville (1-0; 1-0 SEC) on Friday, Sept. 6. The Raiders, led by senior quarterback Jacques Perra, upset Cretin-Derham Hall, 15-12, in St. Paul in their season opener.
“We’re not quite there yet,” Leach said. “We just have to keep working hard, keep showing respect to everyone we play and keep playing our game.”