Wolfpack win thriller against Benilde to return to state

The SMB Wolfpack headed into their section final game against Benilde-St. Margaret’s (BSM) Red Knights in an unfamiliar position. Despite having won 22 games in a row, a state championship, and all nine games this season by more than 15 points, the Wolfpack entered the game as the underdog, as the top-seed of section 5AAAA was awarded to the also undefeated Red Knights. This meant that SMB would be the away team in a battle between the top two teams of the section.

Heading into the game, SMB had two main focus points in their game plan. “We know that if we want to win the game, we need to stop their running game and get the ball in the hands of our playmakers,” sophomore Right Tackle Mason Brooks said.

The team was fearful of Benilde’s run game for good reason as they averaged 252.6 yards-per-game (YPG) compared to the Wolfpack’s 173.8 YPG. As for playmakers, the Wolfpack are relatively stacked with them as they have three of the top four recruits in the state of Minnesota, according to 247 Sports: linebacker Kaden Johnson, quarterback Jalen Suggs, and wide receiver Terry Lockett. All three attend SMB co-op school Minnehaha Academy, and all three have been key to the Wolfpack’s success this season.

The Wolfpack would execute this gameplan to a tee in the first quarter. On the opening drive, the Wolfpack would convert two long third-downs off of deep passes by Suggs. Sophomore running back Sanjay Reed would run it into the endzone to cap the drive and give the SMB an early 7-0 lead. The Wolfpack would get the ball right back, and immediately their playmakers made a difference as on the first play of the drive Suggs connected with Lockett on a 47-yard touchdown pass. SMB would continue to shutdown Benilde’s offense in the first quarter, and it ended with the Wolfpack up 14-0.

However, the game would be turned on its head after a Wolfpack punt was shanked giving BSM excellent field position and momentum. Suddenly, their run game came to life, and the Red Knights began to take control of the game.

“We got pretty sloppy in the second and third quarter. We missed some tackles and struggled on offense,” junior linebacker Ivan Starchook said after the game.

After two straight rushing touchdowns by BSM, the Wolfpack looked to turn the tide back. To do this, they kept the offense on the field on fourth down in the second quarter. Both attempts came on 4th and 1, and on both attempts, Benilde would stop the Wolfpack further cementing their grip on the game. BSM would end the half with another touchdown to take the lead for the first time in the game and enter halftime up 21-14.

The second half would pick up right where it left off as the Red Knight’s first play was a 63-yard run putting them into scoring position. They would score just four plays later. Even after missing the extra point, it was clear that the Wolfpack, their 22 game win streak, and state tournament hopes were in trouble.

“It’s not looking good for the Wolfpack right now,” senior fan Henrik Schleisman said mid-game, “They have a big hole to dig out of.”

His sentiment was shared by many of the SMB supporters whose somber demeanor contrasted sharply with the suddenly raucous Red Knights crowd.

We got pretty sloppy.

— Junior linebacker Ivan Starchook

The BSM crowd would continue to be loud for the rest of the game, launching chants at the Wolfpack and bouncing up and down on the bleachers.

With BSM having all the momentum, and with their crowd into the game, the Wolfpack now faced a very uphill battle with the undefeated Red Knights.

With just three minutes left in the game, the Wolfpack would finally find their breakthrough. On 4th and goal from the 15-yard line, Suggs found Johnson in the endzone on a touchdown strike to make the game 27-21.

With their feet back under them, the Wolfpack’s undefeated season now came down to just one 12 minute quarter. The second play of the fourth quarter looked to break SMB’s will as the Red Knights broke a 61-yard run putting them once again in the red zone. The Wolfpack’s defense would hold BSM to just a field goal, but this made it a two-possession game.

Needing a quick score, Suggs and Lockett would connect once again on a 19-yard touchdown cutting the lead to 30-28 Benilde. After a defensive stop and a good return, SMB knocked on the door once again with four minutes left. Facing a 4th and eight from the 29-yard line, the Wolfpack had a huge decision to make: attempt a long field goal or go for it. The coaches would choose the latter; however, this turned into the worst-case scenario for SMB. With no wide receivers open Suggs would be sacked for a loss of nearly 40 yards, giving the ball back to Benilde in SMB territory.

After another big run to the 9-yard line, the Wolfpack would use all three of their timeouts as their time began to run out. Run after run would bring the clock down to 1:21, a huge 4th and goal, and another big decision, but this time for Benilde. Instead of taking a field goal for a five-point lead, the Red Knights attempted to put the game to bed. But SMB’s defense stiffened, giving them their biggest stop of the season and the ball back down by just two points.

The last-minute and twenty-one seconds would quickly become the Jalen Suggs show. With no time outs, Suggs would drive the offense down the field. The drive featured a 61-yard scramble by Suggs and another touchdown pass to Lockett. SMB would convert then convert a two-point conversion to put them up 36-30 with just 44 seconds left to play.

“It was unbelievable,” Wolfpack captain Tommy Stolpestad said.

Despite the pandemonium, with some fans even on the field, the Wolfpack still needed one more stop on defense. A 30-yard hook and ladder would put Benilde on SMB’s 35-yard line with 26 seconds left. The next play, BSM’s quarterback evaded multiple sacks before launching a ball up inside the 10-yard line. The ball was picked off by Suggs, playing safety, to secure the win for the Wolfpack.

After entering victory formation, SMB’s fans rushed onto the field swarming the players, while the Red Knights and their fans headed to the exits.

As for the Wolfpack’s gameplan, despite their run defense struggles, their playmaker thrived. Suggs finished the game with 288 passing yards, 99 rushing yards, and four passing touchdowns just on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, he had nine tackles and a game-ending interception. Lockett would end up with 188 receiving yards and three touchdowns, and Johnson’s final stat line included 24 receiving yards, a receiving touchdown, and five tackles.

While the Minnehaha players might get a lot of the spotlight, players from St. Paul Academy also had a big helping hand in the victory, specifically on defense. Senior linebacker Tommy Stolpestad finished with eight tackles and was a big part in setting the edge on Benilde’s run game. His brother, ninth grade linebacker Joey Stolpestad would finish with three tackles as he helped keep the Red Knight’s special teams in check, and sophomore wide receiver Judah Thomas ended up with a tackle and ten receiving yards.

With the win, SMB is now 10-0 on the season and have a 23 game winning streak. Despite this, their big win over a previously undefeated Benilde team on the road, and status as the defending state champions; the Wolfpack were ranked 4th out of eight for the upcoming state tournament behind the likes of Hutchinson (10-0), Winona (10-0), and even Delano (7-3). This will set up a match up with the #5 seed Chisago Lakes (5-6). Chisago Lakes will be a underdog in the game as they were a mere 2-6 in the regular season. This quarterfinal game will take place on Saturday, November 7th, at 1 p.m. at Centennial High School. It is expected to be cloudy and in the low 30’s at game time. A win would send the Wolfpack to the state semifinals and back to US Bank Stadium, where they would look to win their second straight title.